Monday, June 29, 2009

Good news buried in recent charter school report

There actually is some very good news buried in “Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States.” However, there also is more evidence that effective analysis of charter schools is very difficult, and even analysts sometimes don’t fully understand the most important messages in the data.

For example, even the Multiple Choice report’s lead author tends to overlook some important messages in the data. As quoted in Education Week, the report’s lead author, Margaret E. Raymond, says, “If this study shows anything, it shows that we’ve got a two-to-one margin of bad charters to good charters. That’s a red flag.”

I think that summary misses some important information.

Perhaps the most important finding in the report is that not all state charter programs are the same. In some states, charters on average do more poorly than what the reporters said were comparable public school results, but in other states charters had a clear advantage.

The report says, “Relative to their TPS (typical public school) peers, the average performance of charter students in reading was significantly positive in Arkansas, California, Colorado (Denver), Louisiana, Missouri, and North Carolina.”

That’s news we can use. If Kentucky establishes charter schools, these are some “go-to” states to look at for model legislation.

Another point, and an area where the report scarcely scratches the surface, is the finding that it takes time for charter schools to overcome the poor educations that new arrivals usually bring with them.

This graph from the report shows that in their first year in charters, students perform notably more poorly than what the report considered to be counterpart performance in public schools. That’s likely due to adjusting to a new, and more demanding, school. In the second year, there isn’t much difference in performance between charter and public school students. However, by the third year of charter experience, the trend notably reverses in favor of students in charters.

What is particularly interesting is the numbers in the graph are averaged across all 16 states in the study, including those with weaker charter school programs. I’d love to see how the graph looks for only those states with strong charter laws. The report in question does not perform that very obviously needed examination, unfortunately.

Still, the data in this new report says:

• Charters in states with good laws do outperform regular schools.

• Students who stay in charters long enough (at least three years) do start to outperform their public school counterparts, even in states with weaker charter school laws.

• Even education researchers at places like Stanford don’t always “get” all the messages in their own data.


Tony G. Rocco said...

Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes that charter schools can help improve the overall education system if the badly run ones are not allowed to continue operating. Charter schools are an important part of the overall Obama strategy to better education in this country. For information, see:

Richard Innes said...

Tony Rocco points to a key difference between charter and regular schools. With charters, it is possible to shut down poorly performing schools. Where bad regular public schools are concerned, however, it is virtually impossible.

Also, even if regular schools are reformed, the staff usually has tenure and has to be absorbed somewhere in the system.