A Stanford University study of charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia found, nationally, only 17% of charter schools do better academically than their public counterparts.
By Mitchell Landsberg | From the Los Angeles Times
6:54 PM PDT, June 15, 2009 -- California charter schools outperform traditional public schools in reading but significantly lag in math, according to a national study released Monday by researchers at Stanford University.
The study of charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia found that, nationally, only 17% of charter schools do better academically than their traditional counterparts, and more than a third "deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student[s] would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools."
"We find that a pretty sobering finding," said lead researcher Margaret Raymond, director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes.
Charter schools have been widely scrutinized, but the Stanford study was one of the broadest and deepest attempts to come to grips with their progress, in part because the researchers were able to look at test scores down to the level of individual students.
In California, the study found that charters overall did about the same as regular public schools, with reading gains more or less balanced by the math deficit. But the researchers stressed that charter schools vary widely in quality, making it difficult to generalize about their performance.
They also said that while California students, on average, did much worse in math in their first year in a charter school, they outperformed their traditional public school counterparts after two years. They also found that several groups, including low-income students and English-language learners, did better overall in charters.
Charters are public schools that operate independently, with only limited oversight by school districts or other authorities. Intended as laboratories of innovation and excellence, they are growing rapidly and have powerful advocates in President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. There are more than 700 charter schools in California, the most of any state, and more than 4,000 nationwide.
Raymond said her center evaluated student performance at more than 2,400 charter schools in the states that agreed to participate.
"The good news is that we have a number of states" -- she named Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri -- "where the average charter school performance is actually better" than that of traditional public schools. There are six states -- Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas -- where charters showed significantly worse performance.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, issued a statement saying that the study demonstrates "that charter schools are not the panacea they often are made out to be, and that our national focus must continue to include discussion of how to support and improve our regular public schools."
Jed Wallace, executive director of the California Charter Schools Assn., which represents and supports charter schools, said he welcomed the report, even those parts that showed charters in less than a flattering light. Asked why California charters were doing worse in math than their traditional counterparts, Wallace said, "My sense is that we've got a lot of relatively young charter schools, and a lot of the entrepreneurial thrust and momentum is translating into progress in English arts, and math, which requires a greater sophistication in many ways . . . is just not there yet."
He added that some charter schools were "just not up to the challenge" and should be closed.
The researchers had access to individual student records, and could assess student progress over three years of testing. They were able to compare charter students who had left traditional public schools with "virtual twins" who had stayed. To do this, they matched up the charter students with all the students at their former public school who closely matched them in terms of test scores, ethnicity, family income and other factors. Then they created "twins" by taking an average of those other students' scores over the ensuing years.
This methodology drew criticism from the Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based nonprofit that is an advocate for charter schools. Jeanne Allen, the center's president, issued a statement saying that the Stanford report "fails the most important and most objective test of student data analysis through their use of virtual twins to replicate real student growth by creating `straw men' subjects."
However, Priscilla Wohlstetter, a professor of education at USC who issues an annual report on the progress of California charter schools, said she had reviewed the study and found the methodology to be sound.
She urged the researchers to focus on why some schools do better than others.
"Let's take a look at what's making the difference," she said. "What are the educational strategies that are being used in the high fliers, or in the ones that consistently don't do well?"
In public relations parlance the following is called ‘getting in front of the story’, framing it in the best possible light - ‘wagging the dog’.
REMEMBER GENTLE READER: THIS REPORT WAS COMMISSIONED AND PAID FOR BY THE CHARTER COMMUNITY. Note exactly who the recommendations “…which included lifting charter school caps at the national level and removing other barriers that prevent new, high-quality charter schools from opening” come from. -smf
THE SPIN, THE SPIN!!: The California Charter Schools Association Response to the CREDO Report
June 15, 2009
Good afternoon, Scott,
A new report issued today by CREDO at Stanford University found that there is a wide variance in the quality of the nation’s charter schools, indicating that students in charter schools overall are not doing as well as students in traditional public schools.
The report, entitled, “Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States,” recognized a strong national demand for more charter schools, and found that 17 percent of charter schools nationwide were performing significantly better than traditional public schools. The report also found that 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.
According to the report, results for charter schools in California were mixed. However, there were some key positive findings, including:
For low-income students, charter schools had a larger and more positive effect than for similar students in traditional public schools.
English Language Learner students reported significantly better gains in charter schools, while special education students showed similar results to their traditional public school peers.
Students do better in charter schools over time. While first-year charter school students on average experienced a decline in learning, students in their second and third years in charter schools saw a significant reversal, experiencing positive achievement gains.
The report had some encouraging recommendations, which included lifting charter school caps at the national level and removing other barriers that prevent new, high-quality charter schools from opening. The report also called on authorizers to adopt thoughtful and consistent standards for holding charter schools accountable for their academic outcomes.
The Association will continue to study the findings of this report. We know that California’s charter school movement has opened doors of opportunity for literally hundreds of thousands of students in California and we know that recent studies that provide a localized look at California charter school performance have found that:
About 70 percent of charter schools in the Los Angeles and Oakland unified school districts outperform their nearby district public schools according to two separate district-level reports on the performance of charter schools.
Twelve of the state's 15 highest-performing public schools serving low-income students are charter schools, according to a recent Association analysis.
In the meantime, our work with the Member Council to develop an improved accountability framework for charter schools continues. We are delighted with the Member Council’s leadership on their effort to strengthen accountability measures for charter schools. This week, the Member Council will consider adopting new minimum renewal standards that are currently under development. These will allow us to continue advancing the long term interests of the movement while positioning California charter schools favorably in competition for federal stimulus funding.
As we further develop our Strategic Snapshot for the new direction of the Association, we are intent on ensuring that we are able to increase the supply of new successful charter schools coming on line in California, while providing technical assistance and other key supports to existing schools. We are continuing to respond to nearly unanimous support from our members to increase our effectiveness in Sacramento and are working with authorizers across the state to improve the policy environment for charter schools. As we continue to support the movement’s expansion, the Association will ensure that accountability remains front and center.
Click here to review a copy of the CREDO report.
President and CEO
California Charter Schools Association