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EDUCATION REPORT - Study of a Charter School Project Finds Big Gains on Tests

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I'm Barbara Klein with the VOA Special English Education Report.

Charter schools are independent public schools. They are publicly financed but privately operated. Education reform efforts led to charter schools in the United States in the early nineteen nineties.

Now there are more than three thousand five hundred such schools and more than one million students. These numbers are small, however, compared to traditional schools.

But charter schools have more freedom. They generally do not have to deal with teachers unions. And the local school system cannot tell them how to teach. But charter schools must prove their students are learning.

A recent study examined test scores in the fifth grade last year at a group of charter schools. The researchers say the gains were greater than what is considered normal. The results, in their words, "suggest that these schools are doing something right."

The study by a private group, the Educational Policy Institute, involved KIPP charter schools. KIPP is the Knowledge Is Power Project. Two teachers began this program in nineteen ninety-four to help students from poor families. It has expanded to thirty-eight schools. As many as ten more are expected to open this fall. Almost all KIPP students are black or Hispanic.

The schools start in the fifth grade. Students are in school for more than nine hours a day Monday through Friday, and a half-day on Saturday. They also attend classes for three weeks in the summer.

But the first thing they learn is how to act responsibly. Each week, students get what is called a "paycheck." They can use it to buy things in the school store. Teachers reduce the amount if a student does not finish work or violates rules. Students with high paychecks get to take part in fun activities like trips at the end of the year.

The KIPP Foundation trains its own teachers. The teachers tell students to call them on the phone if there is ever a problem.

But what if schools have a problem? Another new study shows that charter schools often receive a lot less money than other public schools, especially in big cities. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Progress Analytics Institute released the study this week.

The New York Times published reaction from the American Federation of Teachers. A spokesman for the union noted that traditional public schools often have to provide a lot more services.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Barbara Klein.

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