A five year study (2011-2016) of federal startup charters in Florida, conducted by the Collaborative Assessment and Program Evaluation Services (CAPES) at the University of Florida, makes one wonder why Florida was given so much more federal money this year to launch new charter schools.
It may be a bitter pill for the federal government to swallow, but this study reinforces the NAACP’s decision to call for a moratorium on the expansion of charters.
These Charter School Program grants target low income and rural areas. The goal is to add at least 50 new high quality Florida charters each year for disadvantaged and rural areas. Neither the high quality goal or the goal for number of charters was met in the last two years of the grant.
The Florida Department of Education designated 25 schools to follow over the period of the grant. However, due to incomplete data, only ten charter high schools and eleven elementary charters were able to be matched with similar traditional schools. The CAPES study found no academic achievement advantage for the charters, and where differences occurred, they favored traditional public schools. There were moreover, some serious problems in these federally funded schools. When teacher attrition was compared with traditional schools, two to three times as many teachers left the charters during the school year than at regular public schools. The impact on those children could not have been positive. It has already been documented that teachers are more likely to leave charters due to lower salaries and lack of benefits. To have high attrition in the middle of the year indicates something more must be happening.
The report was commissioned by the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Independent Learning and Parental Choice.
THE OBJECTIVES FOR THE STUDY INCLUDED:
Increase access to high quality schools for educationally disadvantaged students.
Increase the academic achievement of charter school students.
STUDY CONCLUSION. While progress has been made to improve the grant process, the target for increasing high quality charters for low income and especially rural areas has not been met. Most differences were not statistically significant but nevertheless favored public schools.
- Of the ten rural schools targeted to open in 2015, four did open but only one was a high performing charter.
- Eleven charter elementary/middle schools matched on demographic variables, performed the same or less well on state assessments at all grade levels over the five years studied. Grade six 2015 reading scores for charter students improved, but were still 4.2 points lower than for similar students in traditional schools.
- Of the ten matched high schools, charter school students’ 2013 reading scores were lower by about five points in ninth and tenth grade.
There is a goal that 75% of new charters receiving CSP grants will receive an “A’ or ‘B’ school grade. Of the 229 CSP schools grants awarded over the five years, (not including 32 whose grants were rescinded, sixteen on hold, and the eleven schools closed), only 156 schools remain. Of these, 94 charters had baseline school grades. Twenty-seven received an ‘A’ and eighteen earned a ‘B’. Less than half of these charters rather than 75% met the achievement goal.
Improve authorizing practices and capacity of LEA authorizers. This goal was met with an important exception:
STUDY CONCLUSION. The number of denials of charters by local school districts that were overturned by the State Board of Education (SBE) was 20% which was higher than the targeted three percent overturn rate. Why the SBE denial rate is so high is uncertain.
In 2015, districts received 141 charter proposals and approved 41, denied 10 and 48 were withdrawn. Forty two were pending as of August 2015. By March 2015, nine appeals were filed with the Appeals Commission. One charter appeal was approved and four district denials were upheld. Nine appeals to the State Board of Education were filed.
SITE VISIT DESCRIPTIONS
A major difference between the charter and traditional schools was the teacher attrition rate. Charter school teachers resigned during the school year at a high rate. On average more than ten percent of charter teachers left before the end of the school year compared to an attrition rate of 3% for traditional public schools. Moreover, new hires at charter schools tended to have less experience than those teachers who resigned.
Site surveys to districts, charter administrators and parents underscored the separate systems. There was consistent agreement among stakeholders that charters had high expectations for standards and staff and valued effective and caring teachers and leaders. There was also disagreement that there were sufficient staff and resources.