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National Report Finds Minnesota Charter Schools to be Academically Challenged

July 02, 2009 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow
 
A Stanford University report finds that charter schools across the nation - including Minnesota - fall behind public schools in the quality of education they offer. The report found 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains significantly better than public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse, and 46 percent demonstrating no significant difference.

The report, "Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States," is a national analysis that looks at more than 70 percent of the nation's charter school students. The analysis looks at achievement growth on state achievement tests in both reading and math with controls for student demographics and eligibility for program support such as free or reduced-price lunch and special education.

The analysis includes the most current student achievement data from 15 states and the District of Columbia and gauges whether students who attend charter schools fare better than those who attend public schools. In Minnesota, the analysis covered four years of data from 10,190 charter school students attending charter schools from the 2004-05 school year to the 2007-08 school year.

The report found that reading and math scores among Minnesota charter school students were significantly lower than scores from public school students. The report also found that first- and second-year charter school students experienced a decline in learning, seeing positive achievement gains only after the third year in the charter school.

With one exception, Minnesota minorities academically fare poorly in charter schools. African American students in charter schools do significantly better in reading compared to their counterparts in public schools. However, these students receive no significant benefit in math. Hispanics receive no significant benefit in reading or math compared to their counterparts in public schools. Native Americans also receive no significant benefit in reading or math compared to their counterparts in public schools.

The report noted that 49 percent of the students sampled were eligible for Free or Reduced Price Lunch, which is a proxy for low income households. The study showed that students in poverty who attend charter schools receive no significant benefit in reading or math compared to their counterparts in public schools.

First noting that measuring the success of special education students is very difficult, the report found special education students in charter schools receive no significant benefit from charter school attendance in reading or math.

Similarly, those students with limited English proficiency who attend charter schools receive no significant benefit in reading or math.

The report authors state that many charter schools strive to serve students who have not performed well in public schools. To measure the schools' ability to help these students, researchers grouped the students into deciles based on their reading and math test scores on Minnesota's achievement tests prior to entering the charter school. The research shows that the effect of charter schools on math scores was mostly negative, while there was no significant difference compared to their public school peers in reading.

The report summarizes where Minnesota stands: charter schools provide better results for students enrolled for at least three years in reading, students enrolled at least for three years in math, and African American students in reading; the analysis showed they performed significantly worse for all students in reading, all students in math, students enrolled for one year in reading, students enrolled for one year in math, students enrolled for two years in reading, students enrolled for two years in math, and students starting at charter schools with the most academic ground to make up.

For the remaining groups, there was no discernable difference between charter school and public schools, the report noted.

On the national level, the report, issued by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, found that achievement results varied by states that reported individual data. States with reading and math gains that were significantly higher for charter school students than would have occurred in traditional schools included: Arkansas, Colorado (Denver), Illinois (Chicago), Louisiana and Missouri.

States with reading and math gains that were either mixed or were not different than their peers in the traditional public school system included: California, the District of Columbia, Georgia and North Carolina.

States with reading and math gains that were significantly below their peers in the traditional public school system included: Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas.

This report, coupled with Minnesota 2020's recent report on charter school finances raises important questions. Are charter schools an effective way to educate Minnesota's children? Are charter schools a good investment of taxpayer dollars? Both questions merit further investigation.

To download a copy of the full report and executive summary, visit:
credo.stanford.edu


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