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Study: MA Charter Schools Outperforming District Schools

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

 

Students enrolled in the Commonwealth's charter schools are outpacing their counterparts in regular district schools, according to a new study from Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).

The CREDO study, which analyzed over 25,000 Mass. charter school students over the course of six years of schooling from 2005-2006 to 2010-2011, found that the typical charter student gains the equivalent of 1.5 more months of learning per year in reading and 2.5 more months of learning per year in math than their peers at traditional public schools.

"The student-to-student and school-to-school results show charter schools to be performing well relative to the local alternatives," the report states.

Statewide, 44 percent of charter schools showed significantly greater learning gains in reading compared to local alternatives, and 56 percent showed significantly greater gains in math.

Some charters come up short

However, the news was not entirely positive for the charter school model.

Thirteen percent of the charter schools in the study had significantly worse student outcomes in reading, and 17 percent had significantly worse outcomes in math.

"Students in these schools will not only have inadequate progress in their overall achievement but will fall further and further behind their peers in the state over time," the report notes.

"The share of underperforming charter schools is offset, however, by the fact that the proportion of charter schools that are either already achieving at high levels or are positions to reach those levels."

Over 59 percent of the state's charters have positive academic growth in reading, and over 70 percent displayed positive academic growth in math.

The study noted the achievements of Boston's charter school students in particular. The city's charter schools account for roughly 13 percent of all the state's charter students, and CREDO found that Boston charter students gained the equivalent of 12 additional months of reading learning each year and 13 additional months in math compared to traditional public school students in the city.

“The average growth rate of Boston charter students in math and reading is the largest CREDO has seen in any city or state thus far," said Edward Cremata, Research Associate and co-author of the Mass. study. "These results signify that these schools could serve as a model and have an opportunity to transfer knowledge to not only the rest of the state but to the national sector as well."

Charter schools in Worcester

Worcester is home to three charter schools: Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public School, Seven Hills Charter Public School and Spirit of Knowledge Charter School. While all three are public schools, they are all fully independent of the Worcester Public Schools system.

Worcester School Committee member Brian O'Connell said the City's charter schools are popular among parents, which may offer some clue to the greater educational gains exhibited by the students of such schools around the state.

"One factor the charter schools have going for them is generally the parents who enroll their children in the charter school tend to be focused on education," O'Connell said.

"I believe, on the whole, that the children who go to charter schools have more academic support behind them."

But as the CREDO study shows, not all charter schools deliver an enhanced educational experience when compared to their local public counterparts. While charter schools were initially established to serve the ideal role of laboratories for education innovation, there also exists an opportunity for more profit-driven, private sector investment in the industry that may lead to schools that are more focused on the bottom line than on maximizing educational gains among students.

"Those that are oriented towards innovation can teach us a lot," O'Connell said.

Education reform going forward

Looking to the future of education and reform in the Commonwealth, O'Connell said he hopes that charter schools in the Bay State will hew more closely to their historical role of laboratory that can inform academic and strategic planning for traditional public schools than to the market-driven role that has emerged in some areas.

"Our one hope is that long-term we'd have more Horace Mann charter schools," he said, which are also independent but operated under the auspices of the local school committee and funded through the local school district.

In the Commonwealth, the standard charter school is fully independent of the local public school system, and each student's tuition is paid by their sending district, a fact that O'Connell said is a significant flaw in the funding mechanism because it essentially pits the public schools against the charter schools.

"I've argued for years that we should really fund the charter schools on a statewide bsais out of chapter 70 funding," O'Connell said. "The current system really impacts disproportionately the larger urban districts."

 

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