New analysis by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has found that charter schools in urban areas show higher rates of growth on state standardized tests compared to traditional urban school districts.
The study found that minority students living in poverty got the biggest boost from attending a charter school.
Released Wednesday, CREDO’s report examined test data from 41 urban regions from 2007-2012 using a “match” analytic that compares the growth of students living in the same neighborhoods who share similar demographic characteristics and similar starting test scores.
CREDO deems these “virtual twins.”
Looking at the urban centers in total, CREDO concluded that attending a charter school provided students the equivalent of 40 additional days in math and 28 additional days in reading — showing a significant increase from its 2013 study of the charter sector nationally.
“This research shows that many urban charter schools are providing superior academic learning for their students, in many cases quite dramatically better,” said CREDO director Margaret Raymond. “These findings offer important examples of school organization and operation that can serve as models to other schools, including both public charter schools and traditional public schools.”
In Philadelphia, CREDO says students in charter schools receive the equivalent of an additional 43 days in reading and math instruction.
Charters fared better than district schools in most growth measures when student populations are broken down by demographic – including the gains seen among black, Hispanic and impoverished students.
The charter sector showed especially significant gains among English language learners when it comes to math.
District schools fared very slightly better in both reading and math among special-education students.
Local charter boosters trumpeted the report’s findings.
“The CREDO study shows that, when given a chance, public school choice works in urban areas, including Philadelphia” said Robert Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. “This is why charter schools that are outperforming district schools should be allowed to continue to operate, but should also be allowed to expand so they can serve the needs of more children.”
The CREDO report found that the Philadelphia School District educates a higher percentage of students who are in in poverty, learning English, and receiving special-education services.
Philadelphia was the only urban school district in Pennsylvania included in the study.
Compared to urban centers nationally, Philadelphia’s charter sector fell in the middle of the pack.
Boston’s charter sector outperformed it’s traditional sector at the highest rate when comparing against other cities, by far exceeding the gains seen in most other urban centers. Newark, N.J. placed second on that ranking.
In some cities, such as Las Vegas, Fort Worth and West Palm Beach, the charter sector fared worse than traditional public schools.
Twenty-six urban charter sectors fared better than traditional schools in math; 23 in reading.
Eleven urban charter sectors fared worse in math; 10 in reading.
Cyber charters were counted only if they have their physical headquarters within the geographic confines of an urban district.
One key conclusion of the study was that, nationally, charter schools in urban areas have a much bigger impact on students than those in suburban or rural areas.
Another is that student growth increases the longer they remain in charters — a point borne out by the track record in Philadelphia.
CREDO also found that urban charter schools enroll a greater proportion of female students than traditional urban schools in nearly every region — another point that’s true in Philadelphia.
The gender difference is most significant in Newark, N.J., where the charters enroll nearly 7 percent more girls than the traditional schools.
Traditional public education advocates say that these types of broad comparisons offer a skewed portrait that doesn’t acknowledge the nuances between how the two sectors differ on things such as enrollment practices, student attrition and parent engagement.
Another specific critique is how CREDO measures poverty. It considers schools with a student population 80 percent eligible for free or reduced-price lunch as poor.
“One big problem we have with these comparisons is that they do not account for the differences within a particular category,” said David Lapp, staff attorney at the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania. “There’s not great data on this, but there is some evidence that the “poor” kids in charters as a whole are not as poor as the poor kids in district schools.” He said these differences could make it harder for CREDO to accurately compare students.
CREDO’s leaders stand by their analysis, pointing to the fact that they only track and compare students who have similar test scores at the outset.
CREDO director Raymond says that’s an a great equalizer.
“Our starting score actually controls for family background,” she said.