Study: Pa. in bottom three for charter school scores

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A national study on charter school performance shows that academic achievement is on the rise nationally among charter school students, but Pennsylvania is not sharing in that success, likely due to students in cyber charter schools.

The National Charter School Study 2013, released Tuesday, was conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO, at Stanford University and is a follow-up to a similar study done in 2009 measuring the academic achievement of charter school students against those of their peers in traditional public schools.

"We found that overall, the charter sector has improved to the point now where the average learning results in more days [worth of material taught] in reading than they would get in a traditional public school," said Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO at Stanford.

The 2013 study looked at standardized test scores of charter students in 26 states and New York City as compared with their peers in traditional public schools from 2006-07 to 2010-11. The study found that charter students gained on average an additional eight days of learning each year in reading as compared with their peers in traditional schools.

In math, the 2013 study found there is no significant difference in learning between charter students and those in traditional public schools, as compared with the 2009 study that found charter school students covered 22 fewer days of material than their traditional counterparts.

But in Pennsylvania, which did not participate in the 2009 study, charter students on average are covering 29 days less material in reading and 50 days less in math, placing in the bottom three states in the 2013 study.

The other two were Oregon, with charter students covering 22 days less material in reading and 50 days less in math as compared with their traditional peers, and Nevada, where charter students covered 115 days less material in reading and 137 days less in math.

Researchers explained that students aren't actually losing those days of school, but that researchers estimated the amount of knowledge they were behind based on the amount of material covered in a typical day.

CREDO researchers cited the increase in the opening of high-quality charter schools and the closure of underperforming ones as the likely reason for the increase in achievement nationally.

Across the country, 4 percent of public school students attend charter schools, which is more than 2.3 million students at some 6,000 schools in 41 states, an 80 percent increase since 2009, the study said. The study also noted that charter students who are black, Hispanic and those who live in poverty showed higher achievement gains than white students.

In Pennsylvania, 119,465 students attend charter schools, with 84,373 in bricks-and-mortar charters and 35,092 in cyber charters, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Devora Davis, a CREDO researcher who conducted a study of Pennsylvania's charter schools in 2011, said she suspects the poor performance of cyber charter schools is dragging down the state's achievement average. "When we did the Pennsylvania study, we found there was a difference between bricks-and-mortar and cybers. Bricks-and-mortar were doing better than cybers," she said.

In the 2011 Pennsylvania report, the CREDO staff found that from 2007-10, 31 percent of bricks-and-mortar charter schools performed significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts in reading, but 100 percent of cyber charters were significantly worse. In math, the study showed 38 percent of bricks-and-mortar charter schools performed significantly worse, but again, all cyber charters were significantly worse.

Conversely, in the 2011 Pennsylvania study, 38 percent of bricks-and-mortar charter schools performed significantly better in reading than their traditional public school counterparts, while none of cyber charter schools were significantly better. In math, 25 percent of bricks-and-mortar charter schools performed significantly better than their traditional counterparts, while none of the cyber charters performed significantly better.

education - state

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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