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Students in Florida charter schools lagging



On average, students in charter schools lag behind their peers in traditional public schools, and the black and Hispanic students among them perform even worse, according to a national report released today.

The findings were even harsher for Florida.

Many groups of charter students in Florida, a national leader in the charter school movement, perform "significantly worse" than their peers in other public schools, says the study by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), an outfit many regard as pro-charter. Among them: Black students. Students scoring in the bottom 10 percent of their cohort. And students in the top 10 percent of their cohort.

"Despite promising results in a number of states and within certain subgroups, the overall findings of this report indicate a disturbing – and far-reaching – subset of poorly performing charter schools," the report says. "If the charter school movement is to flourish, or indeed to deliver on promises made by proponents, a deliberate and sustained effort to increase the proportion of high quality schools is essential."

The new findings are likely to put more juice into one criticism about Florida's approach to charters – that in the name of "school choice" it has put quantity over quality. But T. Willard Fair, chairman of the Florida Board of Education, shrugged them off. "So what?" he said.

"We're doing (charter schools) because parents have the right to have a choice, the same kind of choice of educational options that other parents do," Fair, who co-founded Florida's first charter school with former Gov. Jeb Bush, told The Gradebook. "If they enroll their students in a charter school that's underperforming, they have the right to transfer them to another school."

"To say that charter schools have failed because the kids are not performing to me is not the correct conclusion," he continued. "It would be an unfair expectation that a charter school, because it is a charter school, is going to outperform other schools."

The Stanford study is the most in-depth assessment of charter schools to date, based on test results from 2,400 charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

Not all of its findings put charters in a bad light. It found that high-poverty students and students who speak English as a second language perform better in charters; students in elementary school and middle school charters are making bigger gains than their traditional public school peers; and by their third year, students in charters are doing better than peers who remain in traditional public schools. It also found that 17 percent of charters "provide superior education opportunities for their students."

That "creates a national imperative to scale up as many of those successful ones as we can so they serve more kids," Bryan Hassel, an education consultant who has criticized Florida's let-1000-flowers-bloom approach, said in an e-mail. "If we responded more aggressively to low-performing charters and scaled-up the best, CREDO's quality curve' would look dramatically different."

Here's reaction from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, including a detailed critique.

- Ron Matus, state education reporter

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:26am]


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