The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University recently released a controversial study claiming that charter schools in Massachusetts clearly outperform their traditional public school (TPS) counterparts. The report was funded by the Walton Foundation and excerpted last weekend by Scot Lehigh in the Globe. Here are a few sentences from the press release:
“A new report released today by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that the typical student in a Massachusetts charter school gains more learning in a year than his or her district school peer, amounting to about one and a half more months of learning per year in reading and two and a half more months of learning per year in math.
“In addition to analyzing state trends, the study included a separate analysis of Boston charter schools. The results for the typical student in a Boston charter (about 13 percent of the state’s charter students) were even more pronounced, equating to more than twelve months of additional learning per year in reading and thirteen months greater progress in math. At the school level, 83 percent of Boston charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their district school peers in reading and math, and no Boston charter schools were found to have significantly lower learning gains…”
Lehigh’s article essentially took these sentences and ran with them. But there’s more to the story: The report had buried in it a few cautions and even some positive tidbits in its data provided for both ELL and students with Special Needs, both of which populations are most often found Missing in Action in our Boston-based charters. Here’s what the report said, buried in the fine print about how Traditional Public Schools students (TPS) outperform charters with ELL students:
“Looking at the results between the sectors, English Language Learners have similar learning gains in math whether they attend a TPS or a charter, but those enrolled in charter schools have significantly lower learning gains in reading than their TPS counterparts…”
Similarly the report issues a caution on assessing students with special needs:
“It is especially difficult to compare the outcomes of Special Education students, regardless of where they enroll. The most serious challenge rests on the small numbers of Special Education students.
“Consequently, there is tremendous variation when all categories are aggregated, a necessary and messy requirement for comparison purposes. Of all the facets of the current study, this one deserves the greatest degree of skepticism.”
In response to some of this, a blogger on Blue Mass Group researched the current eviction rates of students from some charter schools in Boston. And, of course, you already know the outcome. Let me give one example: The Academy of the Pacific Rim Charter in Hyde Park had 68% of its 5th grade students leaving before graduation. Some of the blogger’s data covers student attrition from 5th grade to 12th grade, other data from 9th to 12th, so in part we’re comparing apples to oranges. But where the blogger compares 9th grade to 12th grade (City on a Hill Charter, Codman Academy, and Match), in looking at Boston publics vs. Boston charters, the Boston Public Schools retain 79% of their students over that time frame, while the three charters retain 45%. That’s quite a difference
While the forced eviction of students from Boston charters certainly accounts for some of the charters’ higher scoring on the MCAS, it is not something that we aspire to. Our schools receive all students, welcome all students, and teach all students. We don’t pick and choose our students, and we’d have it no other way. Long story short, one cannot compare results between the two different populations exacerbated by a purposeful manipulation of their student bodies.
There’s been some analysis of the CREDO report from other targeted states. Here’s Diane Ravitch on the New York study. And here’ssomething more about the methodology used in NY. (I know, this is too much already — but it is good stuff!)
Those Seeking to Expand Charters On the Move
Finally, there is a movement afoot on Beacon Hill to remove the cap on charters, which currently drain approximately $80-$90 million per year from the BPS. See a recent report in the Wall St. Journal.