Charter schools benefit students from poor families, black students and Hispanic English-language learners more than their peers in other groups, a study shows.
Overall, charter school students are faring better than they were four years ago, surpassing those in traditional public schools in reading gains and keeping pace in math, according to the National Charter School Study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University.
The study, released Tuesday, updated and expanded upon 2009 findings comparing student performance on standardized reading and math tests. The 2013 study included 25 states, the District of Columbia and New York City, the nation's biggest city, which was considered separately from upstate New York because of its huge number of students. Together, the studied places enroll 95 percent of the nation's 2.3 million charter school students.
"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," CREDO Director Margaret Raymond said.
Researchers did not look into why specific groups benefited more, but charter schools' greater freedom to direct resources toward specific needs was seen as a factor.
The average charter school student showed reading gains equivalent to those that would be expected from an extra eight days of school compared to traditional school students, the study said. Math gains were about equal among the two groups. The results were much improved from the 2009 study, when charter students lost the equivalent of seven days of learning in English and 22 days in math.
"We think that the level of improvement is really noteworthy given that it's only been a few years," Raymond said.
The gains were helped by the closure of 8 percent of the schools included in the 2009 analysis because they were underperforming, she said.
The report calls closing low-performing schools "the strongest tool available to ensure quality across the sector."
American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said the findings show that charter schools have failed to live up to "the leaps and bounds that were promised" in student performance.
"We should use the CREDO findings as an opportunity to pause and ask ourselves why we keep pitting charter schools against neighborhood public schools — a strategy that has created little more than a disruptive churn," Weingarten said.
When broken down into groups, the study showed that black students gained the equivalent of 14 days of learning by attending charter schools but that black students living in poverty saw even greater benefits, the equivalent of 29 days in reading and 36 days in math. Hispanic English-language learners saw even higher gains, though Hispanics in general scored similarly to Hispanics in traditional public schools.
White charter school students posted lower growth scores in reading and math than traditional public school peers, the study found. But noting a trend toward specialty charter schools in affluent white communities, the reading and math scores alone may not paint a full picture of the schools' performance, researchers said. Students may have started out above average and showed smaller gains in those subjects while gaining in other areas such as language or arts, they said.
The study analyzed student data from Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, New York City, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
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