Sunday, June 07, 2009

New Survey of State Charter Schools

By James Grant | USC News
May 20, 2009

Many of California’s 600-plus charter schools in the past year strengthened their fiscal stability and academic progress. However, significant financial data gaps in some counties - including Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Santa Barbara and Riverside limited the ability of policymakers and academics to analyze the relative strength of many schools.

In Los Angeles County, individual school financial strength indicator data was reported to the state for only 30 of 163 charter schools. In Santa Barbara, the data was available for only one of the seven charter schools across the county. In Sacramento County, data was available for just seven out of 26 charters. In Riverside County, data was available for only six of 12 schools. Fresno County districts supplied data for 14 charters out of 27.

Conversely, others of the state’s most populous counties supplied nearly complete financial information, including Alameda, Contra Costa, Mendocino, Orange, San Bernardino and San Francisco.

“As [the charter school] education sector continues to grow, with more than 4,500 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia, state data systems need to improve and become more transparent,” said Priscilla Wohlstetter, director of the Center on Educational Governance at the USC Rossier School of Education.

“Getting an accurate sense for the financial strength of many schools in California is very difficult. With 678 charters in the state, the children and parents in many counties don’t have access to basic financial information such as fiscal reserve and liquidity levels and percent of direct classroom investment.”

At issue, she said, is the fact that charters in the state report data through local school districts - which vary wildly in standards for reporting. Whatever data these organizations supply to the state are then aggregated for analysis.

Wohlstetter and her colleagues said increased accountability for all data could better allow all public schools - charter and non-charter - to apply for increased federal aid under new initiatives of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The findings come from the Charter Schools Indicators-USC 2009 report, released today by the center. This is the third annual report from the center.

The report contains school-by-school ratings based on relative measures of several important criteria, including financial resources and investment, school quality, school performance and academic productivity.

Among other findings on California’s charter schools:

Financial Strength

• Charter schools are increasingly more stable financially, setting aside larger reserves and decreasing liabilities.

• Almost two-thirds of California charter schools invest 51 to 75 percent of total revenues in the classroom.

School Quality

• Charter schools use staffing resources differently than do non-charter public schools, with fewer students per administrator and twice as many students per pupil-services staff member.

• Charter schools continue to transition English learners to fluent English proficient status at a lower rate than non-charter public schools.

School Performance

• Charter schools have relatively similar academic performance indices rankings or scores to the non-charter public schools population.

• Charter schools have outpaced non-charter public schools over the past several years in terms of academic momentum, which measures combined progress in academic areas over time.

Academic Productivity

• Charter schools continue to be more productive in English/language arts achievement relative to non-charter public schools within their district and districts with similar levels of spending.

• Unlike English/language arts productivity, charter school math productivity remains below that of non-charter public schools and has not improved over time.

In its third annual report, Charter Schools Indicators-USC has built upon its foundation of national research and analysis. This year’s report is distinguished by the inclusion of information on individual charter schools.

Charter Schools Indicators-USC is one project among the USC Rossier School of Education’s Center on Educational Governance’s broad commitment to research on the sustainability of high-quality charter schools.

The center has developed and produced an online compendium of promising practices in charter schools; stakeholder satisfaction surveys for parents, students and staff; and the National Resource Center for Charter School Finance and Governance, For more on Center projects and reports, consult the Center on Educational Governance Web site:

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