Don’t read too much into Florida’s charter school report, expert warns

State officials used the data to tout charters’ successes.
Published June 18, 2019

Several state and local leaders invested in Florida’s school choice system seized upon a March Department of Education report detailing charter school academic outcomes and comparing them to district-run schools.

“There is simply no denying that choice works, particularly for minority and low-income students," state education commissioner Richard Corcoran, a strong advocate for charter school expansion, said at the time.

The National Education Policy Center, a University of Colorado-Boulder think tank that examines education research to determine whether reports hold water, has issued a white paper suggesting that readers not draw such deep conclusions.

The reason, author Robert Bifulco of Syracuse University writes, is because the state’s report does little more than provide numbers without any analysis or insight.

“The fact that the report merely presents comparisons required by law without putting any policy ‘spin’ on them might be considered a virtue,” Bifulco stated. “The danger is that the report might encourage erroneous conclusions. The simple comparisons reveal very little about the relative effectiveness of charter schools and still less about other policy questions.”

He noted that charter schools might have several effects, both positive and negative. The report simply does not get into enough detail to answer the policy questions that have caused so much debate and dissension in Florida and elsewhere, he suggested.

“At the very least, the report should have clarified the purposes of its comparisons and cautioned against the danger of jumping to unwarranted conclusions,” Bifulco wrote. “An even more ambitious study might have taken on the challenge of exploring whether students in charters are faring better than they might have if the charter option were not available — and why.”

Read the NEPC paper for more details.