Nightly News | May 18, 2011
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We are back with tonight's EDUCATION NATION report. It's about charter schools in this country. They're in great demand and in short supply. So parents and children lay it all on the line, sometimes entering harrowing lotteries to get in, or not. Our education correspondent Rehema Ellis reports on the tense waiting game for those relatively few spots, and the questions being raised about whether charter schools are truly better schools.
REHEMA ELLIS reporting: For parents and their children, it can be agonizing.
Unidentified Woman: I'm a little nervous.
ELLIS: Waiting and hoping their lottery number will come up for a seat in a public charter school . Do you have butterflies in your stomach?
Ms. TRICIE EVANS (Parent): In my feet, in my toes.
ELLIS: Linda Henderson-Smith doesn't like the process.
Ms. LINDA HENDERSON-SMITH (Parent): I'm not much for gambling for education.
ELLIS: Still, she's here, desperate for her two children to avoid their district elementary school . The same is true for Sharee Way , mother of three.
They're all clinging to a long shot: 329 students are competing for just 45 open seats at Dekalb Academy of Technology and Environment . It's a K through eighth grade public charter school outside of Atlanta . Classes are about the same size as traditional schools, with an average of one teacher to every 24 students.
Mr. MAURY WILLS (Dekalb Academy of Technology and Environment Headmaster): We're not barred with red tape, we're not limited with bureaucratic issues. I think we have the freedom and innovation to do so much with these students.
ELLIS: In reading, math, and science, Dekalb Academy students scored 98 percent above the district, and 78 percent above the state. For all the excitement around charter schools , there is also growing concern that overall they may not be the answer for what ails America 's public schools .
Ms. DIANE RAVITCH (New York University Education Historian): They're no silver bullet. Charters, on the whole, do not get better results than regular public schools .
ELLIS: A recent study found only 17 percent offer superior education, 37 percent were worse. About half produced the same results as traditional public schools .
Source: Credo At Stanford University , 2011
Ms. HENDERSON-SMITH: Relax, all right?
ELLIS: Linda Henderson-Smith 's children didn't get in.
Ms. HENDERSON-SMITH: He's crying. He's not very happy about it.
ELLIS: Sharee Way 's lucky number came up, but for only one of her three kids.
Ms. SHAREE WAY: Come on, girl, let's go.
ELLIS: Parents jumping at a chance to give their children a good education.
Ms. WAY: Thank you, thank you, Jesus .
ELLIS: Fighting the odds. Rehema Ellis, NBC News, Stone Mountain, Georgia.