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Study: Wide variation in success of PA charters

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Students at middle and multi-level charter schools in Pennsylvania perform worse than their peers in traditional public schools in both math and reading, according to a new study published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University.

Students at elementary level charters, however, outperform their traditional school counterparts in both math and reading.

The study examined the success of students in charter schools in 17 states from 2004-2008, using math and reading standardized test scores.

In general, the study found that “reading and math gains for charter school students in Pennsylvania were significantly below their traditional public school peers,” according to a release from CREDO.

But the release emphasized that there has been great variability in success among charter schools, including at the elementary versus middle level.

Cyber charters for example, were much less successful than “brick and mortar” charters. The study found that in 100 percent of cyber charters, students performed “significantly worse” in math and reading than students at traditional public schools.

Of the brick and mortar charters, 35 percent performed better than traditional public schools in reading, while 34 percent performed worse. For math, 27 percent of brick and mortar charters performed better than traditional schools, and 42 percent performed worse.

CREDO noted that another variability in success in charters was based on race. Pennsylvania charter schools seem to work less well for Hispanic students, who as a whole, perform worse than students at traditional schools in both reading and math.

Black students at charter schools were also found to perform worse in math than Black students at traditional public schools, but did similarly well to those students in reading.

English language learners were one of the only groups to consistently benefit from charter schools. While there are relatively few ELL students enrolled in charters (775 compared to 61,770 total), the study found that they fared similarly to ELL students in traditional schools in reading, and had significantly better results in math.

In Philadelphia alone, there are several charters focused on immigrant students and multicultural studies, including Esperanza Academy and Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School.

“Without a vigorous focus on quality, the charter sector as a whole is put at risk by those schools that consistently underperform compared to their traditional public school peers,” said the research manager of CREDO, Devora Davis.

This report comes at a time when Governor Corbett is pushing for more charters in Pennsylvania.

The Notebook will follow up on this report with Philadelphia-specific information when it becomes available.

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