Charter Schools Make Progress on Closing 'Achievement Gap'

Tuesday, 25 Jun 2013 01:57 PM

By Andrea Billups

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A new peer-reviewed study of 1.5 million charter school students has found good news for struggling pupils and gives hope for those educators hoping to close public education's achievement gap.

Students who speak English as a second language, African Americans, and the poor all do better when attending a charter school, the study from Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found. The quality of charter schools around the nation has also improved, but is inconsistent from state to state.

"The results reveal that the charter school sector is getting better on average and that charter schools are benefiting low-income, disadvantaged, and special education students," said Margaret Raymond, CREDO director and a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.

The study, one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind, looks at performances of charter students in 25 states and the District of Columbia. It adds a new layer of hope for school-choice advocates who have long stressed that alternative programs benefit students who may be overlooked or outpaced in traditional public schools. Minority students have long lagged behind their white counterparts as education researchers have sought reforms to help all students achieve their highest potential.

An estimated 2.3 million students attend more than 6,000 charter schools nationwide — an 80 percent increase in enrollment since Stanford researchers last looked at their performance in 2009. That study four years ago looked at charters in 16 states.

In the most recent report, titled "The National Charter School Study 2013," a fourth of charter schools surveyed posted stronger gains in reading over traditional schools, while 29 percent outperformed those schools in math.

The study also pointed to vast differences in the quality of charter schools around the country.

In urban centers such as New York City and the District of Columbia, charter school students were way ahead of those in traditional public schools. However, in other areas, including Nevada and Pennsylvania, they performed worse than public school students.

Among those states posting the highest gains in reading over traditional public schools were California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, and Massachusetts. The lowest gains occurred in Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Texas.

The research found that black, English language learners and students living in poverty gained significantly more days of learning instruction each year in both reading and math compared to their traditional public school peers. For those same student groups, charter school enrollment has continued to grow across the country.

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