Thursday, December 31, 2009

Florida's charters perform a lot like Texas'

I wrote yesterday about what happened to eighth grade performance in Texas after that state started its charter school program.

Let’s look at another state where more than 100,000 students now enjoy the benefits of charter school education – Florida.

First, here is a graph that shows enrollment in charter schools in Florida has been exploding just like in Texas. In the 2008-09 school year, the Florida Department of Education reported that there were 118,169 students in its charter schools.

Like Texas, Florida’s charter program started in 1996.

So, what happened in Florida after it adopted charter schools?

This graph shows how blacks in Florida and Kentucky (which still has no charter schools) did on the federal NAEP tests. Note that Florida didn’t participate in the Year 2000 NAEP. I obtained the scores using the NAEP Data Explorer tool.

Back in 1990 when the first state level NAEP math test was conducted, Floridas’ blacks scored 231 while our black kids scored 240. Florida’s blacks continued to score below Kentucky’s until after that state started its charter schools.

Things then changed notably. By 2003 Floridas’ blacks caught up to our kids and stayed pretty much even with them for a couple of years.

After 2005, however, Floridas’ blacks moved out ahead of ours. As of the new results for 2009 which were just released a short time ago, Floridas’ blacks scored six NAEP Scale Score points higher than our kids. That is a notable difference.

Thus, over the period shown in the graph above, Florida’s blacks went from scoring nine points below our black eighth graders to scoring six points above. The relative ground lost by Kentucky’s blacks was 15 points.

Also, to reiterate, note that the difference in performance began to appear several years after Florida started its charter program.

Unfortunately, the NAEP data can’t tell us how blacks in charter schools in Florida performed over time. The NAEP samples from the charter schools were too small to provide statistically reliable information.

All we can tell from the NAEP is that the overall eighth grade math performance for all students in charters in Florida lagged the statewide average for all the state’s students in 2005 by eight points. However, things sharply reversed by 2009 when the students in Florida’s charter schools outperformed the state’s non-charter students by three NAEP Scale Score points.

As is the case for Texas, there is no way to know how the students in Florida’s charters would have scored had they remained in the regular school system. Still, the data highlighted above is consistent with the likelihood of charters in Florida being part of the reason for the state’s improvement. In fact, this data supports the idea that the introduction of competition to the public school system “raised all boats” in that the regular public schools also improved.

What we do know is that something dramatic is happening for blacks in both Texas and Florida, something far better than Kentucky has offered its blacks. And, we do know that the timing of the increase in charter school enrollment in both those states fits nicely with the possibility that charter schools have played a role, maybe a major role, in making this happen.

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