Finnigan Co-Authors Controversial Charter School Report

The U.S. Department of Education recently released an evaluation of the Public Charter Schools Program prepared by SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute in Menlo Park, CA. Kara Finnigan, assistant professor, was the lead author of the controversial report, which examined the effectiveness of the federal program and documented the evolution of the charter school movement.

The research and report, which Finnigan largely completed before joining the Warner School faculty in early 2004, was the subject of a Freedom of Information Act filing by the New York Times last October. The report’s release by the Department of Education in mid-November, just weeks after the presidential election, fueled the highly politicized debate over the effectiveness of charter schools and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).

The finding that generated the most media interest involved the effectiveness of charter schools. “In five case study states, charter schools are less likely to meet state performance standards than traditional public schools,’’ the report said. The study examined charter schools in Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, and North Carolina-all states that have made significant public investments in charter schools.

While the study design did not allow researchers to determine impact on student achievement by controlling for other factors (such as the achievement of students prior to enrolling in charter schools), it did indicate that charter schools may have difficulty meeting the high-stakes standards adopted by states under NCLB.

One focus of Finnigan’s research has been on charter school accountability and monitoring by the authorizing bodies of charter schools. Finnigan explains that “the charter school movement is based on school accountability and the expectation that schools will meet the goals set out in their charters.” Yet, more than half of all authorizers surveyed in the study reported difficulty in closing a school that was not meeting its goals. This issue has been of significant local interest in recent weeks following the New York Board of Regents order to close two Rochester charter schools.

Further, the report points out that “the charter school contract, with tailored outcomes, may have diminished importance in the high-stakes accountability environment.”

The full report can be found at

Tags: charter schools, Education Week, high-stakes testing, Kara Finnigan, No Child Left Behind, research, US Department of Education