Charter schools are key to President George W. Bush's education policy, but an analysis released last week by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) indicates they may be less than a miracle cure. The study found that students in charter schools--publicly financed schools with flexible hiring and curriculum--generally do not do as well as their public-school peers. That's vital info for parents, but they might have trouble finding it. The results are contained in the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which included the first national sampling of charter schools. The bulk of the NAEP results were released in November, but the AFT charged that the government delayed public reporting of the charter-school results. To complete their analysis, AFT researchers pored over raw data available on the Web.

A spokesman for Education Secretary Rod Paige denied any political agenda. "This is special-interest hyperbole to insinuate that the department hid the data," says Susan Aspey, Paige's press secretary. She says the department's own analysis of the raw data should be ready by "late fall." Even then, she says, it won't be the last word on the nation's 3,000 charter schools, which serve about 761,000 students. "The data is limited in what you can conclude from it," she says, in part because many charter schools are relatively new. Still, now that their early grades are in, charter schools need to prove that they deserve more than an A for effort.