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But the attrition gap is narrowing, and these numbers are also slightly misleading: When charters franchise, many veteran faculty leave existing schools to ensure the new locations maintain the quality of the original. Still, high turnover tends to diminish student achievement. And critics highlight that after 25 years and some 6, schools, charters still on average produce results roughly equal those of the public schools to which they set out to be better alternatives.

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Nationwide, low-income students, especially black and Hispanic, tend to benefit from charters the most, studies show. The staggering range in charter quality starts with authorizers. Every charter school has a state-sanctioned organization that grants its license, reviews its performance, and renews or terminates its contract. About charters close a year, not just for academic shortcomings, but for flawed governance or leadership, a drop in student demand, or financial miscalculations.

An undiscerning authorizer is the main root of weak charters. Take Ohio, often called the Wild West of chartering. A study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes CREDO at Stanford University found that the average Ohio charter student, compared with his or her public school peer, acquired 14 fewer days in reading and 43 fewer days of math in a day school year. The results were nearly identical five years earlier.

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B ut Finn also blames parents. Demand for things like location, security, and athletic programs allowed failing charters to thrive. See sidebar for more on parents. Last year, only 10 percent of rising high school seniors scored college ready on reading tests. Some of the worst charters have even added locations. Some even see a slippery slope. Ideologies aside, the overall record of for-profit schools is subpar.

Beginning in the mids, many states have banned for-profit charters. They now run five. Today for-profits run 14 percent of all charters, many of which are online charters, which have failed students horribly. On average, online charter students achieve fewer days of learning math each year. Charter opponents pound on these grim examples to build the case of charter schools as a failed experiment.

But charter advocates, of course, argue that they exist as better alternatives to terrible public schools. And states with judicious authorizers have a strong record of charters outperforming districts. Massachusetts has one lone authorizer, the state board of education. High school students complete healthcare internships, and all students receive free dental cleanings and vision screenings. A Dorchester resident for the past 35 years, Campbell sent her children through the Boston Public Schools.

They contend that charters inadequately serve children with special needs.

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Charter schools suspend children with disabilities at a higher rate than public schools, and there have been many cases of inadequacy due to a lack of resources, experience, and insensitivity. Nationwide, however, the gap is relatively small: They also note that since charters serve a disproportionate amount of minorities, they are more racially segregated than traditional public schools. As the Brookings Institution also noted last fall, this is a delicate balancing act. Most charter advocates agree the referendum was a doomed political strategy.

Sixty-two percent of voters rejected the cap lift. Only 18 of towns voted a majority in favor, and they were all in suburban districts without charters. The charter war has only grown more fraught since the election. A victory for charters, but at the cost of deeper division.

Many also fear that should Trump become the face of choice he urged Congress, in his first address to them in March, to fund choice , many would-be supporters of charters may convert to pro-district school only, simply as a revolt against Trump. Reville says many leaders of high-quality charters have decided to keep a low profile for now.

On the other hand, DeVos is a champion of vouchers, state-funded scholarships that parents in low-income districts can use to send their children to private or religious school. Charter and district supporters alike tend to dislike vouchers. As a result, would both sides of the charter war unite against vouchers?

How things move forward with DeVos could drive district and charter schools to compromise and collaborate. In Charter Schools at the Crossroads , Finn and his coauthors make their final case for charter schools by referencing the Massachusetts Constitution of , the oldest constitution in continuous effect in the world, written centuries before the advent of charter schools and decades before Horace Mann universalized public education.

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Illustration by by Mike McQuade. But the charter grants autonomy to develop curricula, personnel, and budgets free of the regulations to which district schools are beholden. Illustrations by Mike McQuade. The three major tech companies—along with Amazon, a relatively new player on the scene—go head-to-head in vying for big chunks of school business, most notably in sales of devices and operating systems, and they try to forge their own paths in others. At the same time, all of them are best known for their work outside education, through their sales to consumers, businesses, or both.

But within school districts, their clout is undeniable. Each of the companies has seen its fortunes shift in the fickle school market, where vendors of all sizes struggle to gauge what schools want, which administrators make buying decisions, and whether new products will dazzle educators and students, or simply frustrate them. See the survey results here. K officials were highly familiar with the process for buying products from Apple, and gave a high rating to that experience. When asked which school-provided tools educators and students use most for instruction in their districts, 42 percent of survey respondents said Chromebooks, far outpacing PC laptops, at 15 percent, and PC desktops and Apple iPads, both at 13 percent.

But a much stronger percentage of those surveyed, 46 percent, rated their purchases of Microsoft products as excellent or good, than did those who rated them as poor or fair, at a combined 13 percent. EdWeek Market Brief gave all four companies the opportunity to comment on the survey results.

However Apple, Google, and Microsoft are perceived in school districts, some industry observers question whether the dominant role they play stifles the introduction of bold new ed-tech tools into the market, as companies looking in from the outside choose to stay clear of occupied territory.

As it now stands, the big three providers, along with Amazon, are all selling products in a rapidly changing digital education environment. Districts continue to invest heavily in devices for individual students.


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Internet connectivity and reliability in schools are on the rise, as is district take-up of cloud- and browser-based technologies. Faced with a bewildering assortment of tech choices, school officials today make buying decisions based on a combination of factors, including their perceptions that a product will help boost student achievement and increase student engagement. The processes are institutionalized, by definition. They also want products that are easy to use. District officials overwhelmingly emphasized the importance of ease-of-use in the survey results, and the respondents appear to heavily favor Google for just that reason.

But that idea is antithetical to many administrators, who face enormous pressure to make smart, cost-effective buying decisions. Educators, for their part, want technology that will improve instruction without overwhelming them or heaping on new tasks. Companies also have to create products to appeal to districts with different academic and tech needs and capabilities. Against that backdrop, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have sought to stand out in the market by offering products that meet a variety of classroom and back-office functions:. Some of the best-known products the companies have introduced into the K market are free for teachers and students.

The company gives its operating system for free to Chromebook manufacturers, which sell the hardware. Those operating systems, which run on Chromebooks, have 58 percent of the market share , up from 38 percent two years ago. Ray is also a former executive director of learning technology for the Metro Nashville school system. With those disconnects in mind, she urges chief technology officers in districts to make sure they agree with chief academic officers about what digital tools are needed for instruction.

Many Chromebook functions do not require web connectivity, he said.

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And districts can access a lot of educational materials today through the cloud, without downloading software. But if schools want it, some Chromebook models on the market offer more memory, he said. With Chromebooks and G Suite, Google was determined to reduce the management burden districts face in bringing new educational devices and platforms into the fold, Sheth said. On that front, he believes Google is succeeding. And because G Suite can be accessed from the web, he added, it can work on any device with internet access—in districts that use Google devices, and those that use Microsoft or Apple tools.

The company says it has since halted that practice. Some privacy advocates question whether those steps go far enough. Moore uses docs, slides, and Classroom—all features of G Suite—to push out assignments to, and work with, her students, all of whom have Chromebooks. She logs in to review their work and makes suggestions. Sometimes she works with students in real time through the system, using a chat feature to exchange ideas.

Such was the case when she noticed a boy working on using persuasive techniques in making an argument about whether commercials for junk food should be used on TV. She gave him tips on strengthening his argument. The product has at times brought frustrations.