Florida report: Charter school students outperform traditional students

The Florida Department of Education championed charter schools in a report released Tuesday that indicated students in charter schools outperformed their peers in traditional schools.

The new report contrasts with others provided to the Florida Legislature and national studies that show students in charter and traditional public schools perform about the same.

Charter schools, which receive public tax dollars but are run by independent boards, have proliferated in Florida since they first opened in 1996.

Miami-Dade officials questioned whether the new report had statistically significant results or fairly compared students.

While about a quarter of the state’s charter school students live in Miami-Dade County, the analysis was spread across the state, said Gisela Feild, administrative director of assessment, research and data analysis for the Miami-Dade School District.

“To me, it’s a very simplistic methodology that doesn’t tell, in our opinion in a statistically defensible way, as to how charter school kids really perform,” Feild said.

Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said in a statement the report shows charter schools are “a viable option for parents.”

State law requires the Department of Education to analyze charter school performance. Mike Kooi, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, said the report is not new. “We’ve been doing this report for years. We had never done a press release before,” Kooi said. “I think that obviously we’ve seen a lot of articles coming up from the media unfortunately attacking charter schools ... I think this report provides some perspective on that.”

A Miami Herald special report last year found that charter schools enroll a lower share of poor, minority and special needs students. For example, Charter School at Waterstone in Homestead had about 32 percent of its students in 2010 qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a common indicator of poverty. At nearby Campbell Drive K-8 Center, 93 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.

The DOE’s latest report noted 45 percent of students in charter schools are poor, compared to 55 percent of students in traditional schools. Miami-Dade enrolls an even higher share of poor students, more than 70 percent.

The new report used data from the 2010-11 school year and compared how students in charters and traditional schools performed in three areas: the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, or FCAT; achievement gaps between white and minority students; and learning gains made by students. The report found that on FCAT reading, math and science exams, charter school students generally outperformed students in traditional schools. The gap ranged between 1 and 7 percentage points.

“This report is great news,” said Robert Haag, president of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools. “The report validates what charter school advocates, teachers and parents already know that high-quality public charter schools are making an incredible contribution to the state’s public education system and helping thousands of children learn.”

The report also compared the test scores of white, black and Hispanic students in the different types of schools. In some groups, there was little difference, with kids scoring evenly. For example, 68 percent of Hispanic charter school students passed the FCAT math compared to 59.8 percent of the same group of students in traditional schools. In other groups, there was a bigger contrast: In charter high schools, 70.8 percent of poor students passed the math FCAT, compared to 61 percent in traditional public high schools.

Karen Aronowitz, president of United Teachers of Dade, questioned whether all charter schools have enough students in those subgroups to be counted and compared to the universe of public school students.

“I’m very happy when our students are successful,” she said. “What’s kind of upsetting is that is you would think the Florida DOE would want the same conditions in our public schools that they believe help charter schools,” she added, citing things like autonomy, flexibility and class size.

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