Charter Schools Tops in Math and Reading

Is public education always the way to go? Can students receive an equal or better education elsewhere? According to a new study, charter schools are doing at least a comparable job to, and in some cases a better job than, traditional schools. This is particularly true for elementary and middle schoolers, most notably in the areas of math and reading. The study may suggest that it's time to give charter schools their due.

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charter school performance studies

Encouraging Data for Charters

A study of 'high quality' research into charter schools by two economists at the University of Washington shows 'ample evidence that charter elementary schools on average outperform traditional public schools in both reading and math, and that charter middle schools outperform in math.'

The study was conducted by the university's Center of Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). The report is titled 'The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Literature'.

The biggest difference was found in middle school math. According to the study, middle school students at charter schools could gain about two percentile points per year as compared to same-grade students at public schools.

There were no noticeable differences in math or reading averages between public and charter high schools, nor in middle school reading averages.

Past Reports Drew Different Conclusions

The new report is markedly different from a 2003 pilot study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In that study, it was found that fourth-grade students in charter schools did not perform as well as fourth-graders in public schools when it came to math, and did equally as well in reading.

In addition, the 2003 study found that students of similar race and ethnicity did the same in math and reading in both charter and public schools.

A 2009 report by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) also did not draw the same conclusions as the recent CRPE study. The CREDO report, which studied charter schools in 16 states, found that only 17% of charter schools did better in math when compared to a similar public school, and 37% had significantly lower math gains than comparable public institutions.

Getting the 'Whole Picture'

The authors of the CRPE report say that earlier studies 'took a single snap shot of average achievement' and largely ignored other variables, such as student backgrounds and academic history. This 'whole picture' approach could prove more effective than past studies.

By adding variables such as the lottery system used by charter schools and geographic location, the authors of the CRPE study feel they have more accurately portrayed the overall effectiveness of learning at charter schools than by simply comparing them to public schools.

The study stresses the importance of its findings, stating that the successes and failures of charter schools should be accurately recorded since these institutions rely so heavily on performance results. Unlike their public counterparts, poorly-performing charter schools can be shut down.

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