When you read the very wrenching story in the Washington Post, come back and look at the numbers again. We returned to the Stanford University’s CREDO evaluation of charter school achievement. About one fourth of charters out perform similar students in traditional public schools. Many are located in D.C. About 20% score worse. Do test scores tell the whole story?
CREDO attributes the improvement in the achievement gains of charters, especially in D.C. to the increased closure rate of charters. Charters are not getting better; they are closing more often. Most children disappear; about one fourth reappear in traditional schools. Low achieving charters that close raise the average gains of those that remain. Another contributing factor is that the charters tend to be smaller than traditional public schools (TPS).
TPS with fewer than 350 students are required to shut down regardless of their achievement level. Do smaller schools make a difference? Some think so. Others suggest that students selected for charters are different from those in TPS.
CREDO admits it cannot address the cream skimming accusation against charters, but posits that their increasing percentage of low income minority students indicates that charters do not systematically take better prepared students. However, student attrition is very high in D.C. Attrition rates impact achievement if the lower achieving students leave. Of the 2000 students who left charters during 2011-12, about one-fourth enrolled in public schools. The rest have not been traced. If they were students who had low achievement gains, D.C. charters achievement gains could be an illusion.
CREDO reports achievement gains for charters by state. I checked Florida’s fourth grade reading gains for charters. Students scored above the NAEP national average but their reading gains were negative compared to TPS. I keep wondering about those NAEP scores when so many third graders are held behind in Florida but not in most other states.
A few states whose students scored low on the NAEP assessments made significant learning gains in charter schools compared to their TPS counterparts. Michigan, Louisiana, Tennessee, California and D.C. were in this group. WHY? We need serious research on student attrition. These are the states to watch and learn about. We have already heard troubling reports about Louisiana and Tennessee. What is under the numbers in these states?