Slicing another piece of charter pie

The jury may still be out on the overall effectiveness of charter schools, as a major, recent study concluded, but a large chunk of the public still has a pieinthesky attitude about them.

According to a poll released today, public support of President Obama’s education agenda has slipped during the past year – only 34 percent of Americans would give the president an A or B on education performance now, compared to 45 percent last year – but support for charter schools continues to grow.

Some 65 percent of the respondents to the survey by Phi Delta Kappa International and Gallup said they would welcome new charter schools in their communities, and 60 percent said they would favor a “large increase” in the number of charters in the United States. There are about 5,000 charter schools across the country, and Obama wants to create more, copying the efforts of those that have improved achievement among lowincome students.

But a federally commissioned study released about two months ago found that students who won lotteries to attend charter middle schools didn’t perform any better, on average, in math and reading than students from the same communities who lost the lotteries and attended nearly regular public schools. The study involved 2,330 students who applied to 36 charter schools in 15 states. The charter schools in the sample conducted random admission lotteries, meaning that only chance – not some type of screening – determined who attended.

The study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research of Princeton, N.J. and reported by Education Week, also concluded that the charter school lottery winners did no better, on average, than the lottery losers on such factors as behavior and attendance.

The study seemed to reinforce findings by researchers at Stanford University, who concluded in an earlier study last year that most charters generally were producing similar or worse achievement results than traditional public schools.

The Mathematica study did find, however, that the charter middle schools that served the most economically disadvantaged students – especially in urban areas – were more successful than charters serving higherachieving, more affluent students in producing gains in math.

In short, charters, as Texas’ experience with them has demonstrated, are still a mixed bag. Some are good, and others are a waste of the tax dollars spent on them.

Here is a link to the Mathematica study:

http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20104029/pdf/20104029.pdf

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