Charter Schools Hit, Miss in New Report; Limited English, Poverty Students Get Math and Reading Boost

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrea Billups, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Even as the president has touted the growth of charter schools and his education secretary has decried state caps on their numbers, a new study from Stanford University has found that the nation's charter schools have not significantly raised student achievement when compared with traditional public schools.

The study of collective reading and math progress in 2,403 charter schools in 15 states and cities, including the District of Columbia was released Monday by researchers at Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). It showed that almost half of the charter schools produced results similar to those from comparable public schools, and schools producing worse results than the traditional schools outnumbered those with better numbers by more than 2 to 1.

The study matched students in charter schools with twins of the same demographic and educational-success levels who were enrolled in traditional public schools. The study then compared the achievement on standardized tests of the two groups of students.

The study said 46 percent of charter schools posted results statistically indistinguishable from what the twin students in traditional schools achieved. Just 17 percent of charter schools outpaced traditional schools, while 37 percent of charter schools had academic results significantly below the performance of pupils in conventional schools.

The bright spot: Students who live in poverty and students who had limited use of English were found to do better academically in charter schools, with gains posted in reading and math, researchers said.

Charter schools that are organized around a mission to teach the most economically disadvantaged students in particular seem to have developed expertise in serving these communities, the study said in explanation.

Length of time in a charter school also seems to help, the researchers found. First-year students posted learning declines; but by the second and third year in charter schools, students on average made significant positive gains.

Blacks and Hispanics also did worse than their public school twins, the researchers said, noting the impact of family backgrounds on achievement. In contrast, students who aren't poor or classified as English-language learners did notably worse in charter schools, the researchers found, adding that some students in charters may be off mission.

Lead study author Margaret Raymond, who spoke during a teleconference Monday, said wild variations in student achievement were reported from state to state and presented a serious quality challenge for the charter school community.

The CREDO researchers also called on states to replicate good charter school practices and models, while adding that those who seek to open new charter schools need to hold up their end of the charter bargain, accountability for flexibility, and be willing to close those schools that are not working.

The good news is that we have a number of states where the average charter school performance is superior to traditional public schools, Ms. …