New Study Finds Choice Programs Effective in Raising Academic Achievement

By Stocket, Madeline | New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), June 9, 2015 | Go to article overview

New Study Finds Choice Programs Effective in Raising Academic Achievement


Stocket, Madeline, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)


A report from the state Department of Education found that public charter schools and magnet schools operated by Regional Educational Service Centers (RESCs) have helped inner-city students achieve higher academic proficiency than their peers in the public school system.

The education department, which analyzed data from a third- to fifth-grade and sixth- to eighth-grade cohort for its report, drew its findings from comparing the Connecticut Mastery Test scores of urban students in non-Choice schools, public charter schools, magnet schools populated by students from local districts, magnet schools operated by RESCs, and the Open Choice program.

The data concluded that, in the third- to fifth-grade cohort, magnet schools operated by RESCs performed best at closing the academic achievement gap.

In this cohort, the Open Choice schools program and the magnet schools operated by local districts were the second- and third-best performing, respectively.

The public charter school system, however, remained the worst performer in the third- to fifth-grade cohort.

The authors of the report called this "puzzling," as the public charter school system proved to be the best option for CMT takers in the sixth- to eighth-grade cohort, followed by magnet schools operated by RESCs.

The report attributes this inconsistency to a disparity within learning strategies, saying that "strategies that work best for the younger students in cohort 1 may not be as effective for the slightly more mature students in cohort 2, and vice versa."

However, despite the unyielding language of the report, the data provides little clarity.

"The results were a mixed bag," Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell told the state Board of Education at last week's meeting, urging members not to draw strong conclusions from the report. "In some cases, students in Choice programs made greater academic gains than their peers not enrolled in these programs, thereby closing achievement gaps, while in other cases they did not."

So the question remains -- are charter and magnet schools really a better academic option than their public counterparts?

In a state that has the worst achievement gap in the nation, this debate has continuously plagued Connecticut lawmakers and citizens alike. The controversy recently became revitalized when Democratic lawmakers learned of Malloy's insistence to allocate $4.6 million of the recently-approved $40.3 billion state budget to fund two new charter schools.

Charter school advocates such as Malloy argue that students in Connecticut's charter schools perform better on standardized tests than their public school counterparts. Proponents such as Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, a group dedicated to improving education options for the state's youth, continue to voice support for giving parents of students in underperforming schools the high-quality options they deserve.

However, opponents of the expansion, such as Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, D-Bridgeport, believe the charter school system is stripping funds from public schools that already are floundering. …

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