- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2004

The vast majority of children attending the nation’s 1,146 charter schools with at least 10 students are more proficient in reading and math than their nearest regular public school with a similar racial composition, a Harvard University study found.

“In states where charter schools are well-established, charter school as students’ advantage in proficiency tends to be greater,” economics researcher Caroline M. Hoxby concluded.

The study, just completed, compared test scores of 46,000 charter school students in 20 states and the District — almost every student attending the special schools with fewer restrictions than traditional public schools.

More than two-thirds of charter students were found to perform better in reading and math and to have a significant achievement advantage over students in the nearest regular public school.

“In the District of Columbia, where 11.3 percent of students are enrolled in charter schools — by far the highest percentage of any state — the charter school advantage is large,” the report said. “There, fourth-grade charter students’ advantage is 35 percent or more in both reading and math.”

In California, which had 11,231 students enrolled in 199 charters, the largest number of any state, the proficiency advantage over nearby regular public schools was about 8 percent in reading and 3 percent in math.

In Arizona, with 108 charter schools, the proficiency advantage for fourth-graders was 7 percent in both. In Colorado, charter students perform 11 percent better.

Student performance in charter schools was significantly lower than regular nearby schools in just five states with about 30 percent of national charter enrollment, mostly minority children from poor families.

Those states were Michigan and North Carolina, where charter school performance was three to four percentage points lower, and New York, Ohio, and Texas, where performance was 8.7 to 11.4 points lower. The five states had 15,086 children in 371 charter schools.

Last month, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) issued a report based on a sample of 3 percent of charter students that concluded their performance was below that of regular public school students.

The AFT report was criticized as “flawed” by Education Secretary Rod Paige, who said the public school union failed to compare the students’ reading and math proficiency before enrolling in charter schools with their academic progress since.

Miss Hoxby, an expert on the economics of school choice with the National Bureau of Economic Research, said the AFT study was “junk research” and “misleading.” Because charter schools enroll only 1.5 percent of students in America, she said a 3 percent sample amounted to only four fourth-graders in Connecticut charter schools, 14 in the District, 32 in New York, and 38 in New Jersey.

“A state’s charter school policy cannot be evaluated using the equivalent of one or two classrooms of students,” she said. “This study uses assessment data on 99 percent of fourth-graders enrolled in charter schools, except that fifth- or third-graders are used in states that do not test fourth-graders. …

“Although it is too early to draw sweeping conclusions, the initial indications are that the average student attending a charter school has higher achievement than he or she otherwise would,” Miss Hoxby said.

Also, education leaders point out, another important benefit of charter schools is better student behavior and character education that cannot be measured in the same way as academic proficiency.

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