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Charter study: Florida's students gain more in reading in traditional public schools



Students attending traditional public schools in Florida learn more in reading than their counterparts in the state's charter schools, according to a new study by Stanford University. There was no difference in math.

Charter students lose the equivalent of seven days of learning in reading in Florida. This is a different result than a review of charter school performance touted by the state Department of Education earlier this year.

That was just one point in a sweeping study done by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO, at Stanford. The study, which is an update on the 2009 CREDO study, tried to gauge how well charter schools are performing nationwide. It looked at data from 25 states and the District of Columbia. New York City was considered separately from New York State, bringing the total number up to 27. That accounts for about 95 percent of charter students nationwide. 

Researchers found a wide variation of charter performance across the states. In sixteen of the 27 states, charter students had better learning gains in reading than students attending traditional public schools. In some cases, the difference was large - charter students in the District of Columbia, for instance, had 72 more days of learning in reading and 101 in math, while charter students in Arizona lost 22 days of learning in reading and 29 days in math. 

The researchers said those days matter more depending on the overall quality of education in a particular state. A difference of a few days might not matter as much in a high-achieving state. In a low-achieving state, it could be crucial.

The 2013 CREDO study also has some interesting demographic trends about charters. Charters now nationwide are serving a greater percentage of black, Hispanic and low-income students than traditional public schools. Charters also serve fewer students with disabilities than traditional public schools. Demographic trends vary within the states.

The big question with charter school studies often is how to accurately and fairly compare performance when there are differences in school populations. Selection bias also is an issue - do the same kinds of parents and students seek out charters? Charters often are accused of cherry-picking students, while traditional public schools must accept all students. (To be fair, public magnet schools often select the best students for their programs, which can boost overall school performance. But there's transparency about the process.)

The CREDO researchers attempted to avoid some of those pitfalls by creating a "virtual twin" for each charter student. That is, a traditional public school student with the same demographic profile with the only difference being that one went to a charter. (Read more about that method in the study.)

CREDO's researchers also mention that no one study can be used to form general conclusions about charters. It must be considered as part of the existing body of research done on the subject. The issue, they note, is political in the current climate of so-called education "reform."

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 4:36pm]


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