Sunday, June 21, 2009

Texas charter school students lag behind, study says

These are important findings given the state and federal support of charters as a reform solution.


By SHIRLEY JINKINS | Star Telegram
Sunday, Jun 21, 2009

A national study released by Stanford University on Monday said minority students in Texas public charter schools do worse in reading and math than those in traditional public schools.

And overall, a typical student in a Texas charter school learns significantly less than his or her traditional school counterpart, the study says.

But English-language learners, students from low-income families and students enrolled for several years benefit from attending charter schools, the study says.

The Stanford report covers 16 states and analyzes five years of data, concluding with the 2006-07 school year.

It focused on students in third through 11th grade because they take state assessment tests, which were the mark to measure achievement. To compare academic growth, the study tried to find for each charter school student a "virtual" twin in the traditional public school that the charter student transferred from or would have attended.

The study found that almost half the charter schools performed about the same as traditional public schools in math, said Dr. Margaret Raymond, lead author of the study and head of the research team.

"Then, 17 percent had statistically superior figures, and 37 percent of charter schools were significantly worse than public school," she said.

Tremendous variation in academic quality among charters is the norm, not the exception, the study says.

"You do see a lot of variation within communities, variation within states and variations within the national picture," Raymond said. "Does it mean charter schools should be fixed, or are public schools really strong?"

The report draws some of the same conclusions as other recent studies of charter school effectiveness, including a Rand Corp. study this year. That study attributed low minority achievement levels to "the success of the provision in the state’s original charter law encouraging the establishment of charter schools for disadvantaged students."

Improving minority achievement was one of the major goals cited during establishment of the first public charter schools in Texas in 1996.

Not everyone is alarmed at the low minority achievement levels in Texas.

"It’s not terribly surprising that during that first year, you see performance drop off," said David Dunn of the Texas Charter Schools Association. "But by the third and fourth year, charter students exceed in both reading and math."

Another positive, Dunn said, is Texas charter school performance for English-language learners.

Joe Bean, public information specialist with the Texas State Teachers Association, said high expectations may be part of the problem facing charter schools.

"We hear the same kinds of things not only with charters, but also with the voucher program," he said. "But once data starts coming in down the road, typically there may be some gains or there may not, but it usually doesn’t meet the high expectations anticipated at the start."

The Stanford study group said the problem for low-performing states is one of charter school policy as much as educational issues.

"What’s going on with that 37 percent?" Raymond said. "We feel it’s a call for stronger school accountability and stronger provider accountability, states taking a stronger look at consistently underperforming schools."

The report says there is "a disturbing subset" of poorly performing charter schools, which education officials are reluctant to close.

Charter caps, which limit the number of charters granted, were also cited as a particularly harmful policy.

"It is dissuading successful schools from replicating their practices," Raymond said. "It is decreasing entry opportunities for charter management organizations to come into a state."

Texas has about 460 open-enrollment charters serving more than 90,000 students. There is a waiting list of 17,000 students for charter openings.

Recent failed legislation sponsored by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would have loosened the cap and strengthened the state’s ability to shut down struggling charters, said Dunn, of the Texas charter school group.

The lack of higher achievement levels in Texas charters is one reason why the teachers association did not support legislation to lift the cap, Bean said.

"The standards appear to be fairly low for accountability" of charter providers, Bean said. "Also, the Texas Education Agency doesn’t have the resources to adequately monitor the charters that are now open."


Stanford report’s key findings: In general, students in charter schools nationwide are not faring as well as students in traditional public schools.

Texas was among the states whose charter schools’ academic gains lagged behind those of their traditional public school counterparts. Students from 371 charter schools were followed; 17 percent of charters showed academic gains better than traditional public schools; 46 percent showed no significant differences.

Charter schools overall had a positive effect on low-income students and English-language learners.

Elementary and middle school charter students tended to do better than their peers, but that wasn’t true for upper- or multilevel charter students.

First-year charter school students experienced a decline in test scores and progress, while those in their second and third years usually saw positive gains.

Charter schools in five states outperformed their traditional peers; charters in six states, including Texas, underperformed their traditional peers.

Source: "Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States," Stanford University

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