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Topic: Charter schools show little difference in school performance
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 13,657
Registered: 12/3/04
Charter schools show little difference in school performance
Posted: Apr 10, 2014 4:20 PM
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From The Chicago Sun Times, Monday, April 7, 2014. See
http://www.suntimes.com/26686762-761/a-push-for-charter-schools-but-little-difference-in-student-performance.html
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Charter schools show little difference in school performance

------------------------------------------------
RELATED SIDEBAR STORY: Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not want to comment on
a Chicago Sun-Times analysis showing that charter school students
don't perform better on standardized tests than students at
traditional public schools in the city. SEE
http://www.suntimes.com/26706635-761/emanuel-avoids-direct-answer-on-charter-school-performance.html
--------------------------------------

Since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011, Chicago has ordered the
closings of dozens of neighborhood public schools while approving a
new wave of publicly financed, privately operated charter schools, in
a much-touted effort to improve education.

Emanuel's push continues an effort begun under former Mayor Richard
M. Daley and supported by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that's
seen the number of privately run schools across the city grow from
none in 1996 to more than 130 today, with more set to open later this
year. Charters and other privately run schools now serve nearly one
of every seven Chicago public school students.

But even as many parents have embraced the new schools, there's
little evidence in standardized test results that charters are
performing better than traditional schools operated by the Chicago
Public Schools system, an examination by the Chicago Sun-Times and
the Medill Data Project at Northwestern University has found.

In fact, in 2013, CPS schools had a higher percentage of elementary
students who exceeded the standards for state tests for reading and
math than the schools that are privately run with Chicago taxpayer
funds.

That was true for all CPS-run schools and also just for traditional
neighborhood schools, which don't require admissions tests or offer
specialized courses of instruction.

The analysis looked at the scores of every Chicago student who took
the state tests last year - nearly 173,000 students at traditional
CPS-run schools and more than 23,000 students at charter schools and
the much smaller group attending so-called contract schools. Like
charters, contract schools are run by private organizations with the
authorization and financial backing of Chicago schools officials.

The Sun-Times/Medill Data Project analysis showed:

. On the math portion of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test,
7.3 percent of CPS neighborhood school students exceeded standards,
while 5.3 percent of kids at the privately run schools did so.

. Among charter or contract elementary students, 7.9 percent
exceeded standards on the ISAT for reading, compared with 9.8 percent
of students at neighborhood schools. The ISAT in math and reading is
given to third- through eighth-graders.

. Neighborhood and privately run high schools both saw just 1.6
percent of their students exceeding standards for reading on the
Prairie State Achievement Examination, which is given to high school
juniors.

. Charters and contract schools edged out neighborhood high schools
- 1.3 percent to 0.7 percent - when it came to exceeding standards on
the math portion of the PSAE last year.

. Students at CPS' selective-enrollment, classical, magnet and other
schools with admissions tests or specialized offerings posted far
better results than those at both charter and neighborhood schools.

. As with neighborhood schools, there is a wide range in the test
scores of charter schools, even within some of Chicago's largest
charter chains.

Take the Chicago International Charter Schools, a chain with more
than 9,000 students across the city. It had one of the best-scoring
elementary charter schools in the city last year - CICS Irving Park.
But its Larry Hawkins and Lloyd Bond schools on the South Side posted
some of the weakest results.

Beth Purvis, chief executive officer of the CICS network,
acknowledges that some of the chain's schools are underperforming but
said they are improving in ways not yet reflected in the state tests.
She said a better measure of a school's effectiveness is how much
students grow compared to their level upon starting at the school.

"Although the ISAT scores don't look good, and you would say, 'Whoa,
these kids are performing quite low,' the average child in the early
grades is making over a year's gain in 10 months at school," Purvis
said of Lloyd Bond, an elementary campus.

As poorly as Lloyd Bond and Larry Hawkins students scored on tests,
kids at nearby public schools did even worse, Purvis said.

"Kids come to these campuses with very limited resources, from
families with little educational background themselves," she said.
"We're all struggling down there. We are not satisfied with the
performance and want to get better."

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Emanuel's schools chief executive, said Friday
the district is intent on holding "every school, regardless of school
type, accountable to rigorous academic standards.

"Our top priority is ensuring our students graduate 100 percent
college-ready and 100 percent college-bound," she said.

Joel Hood, a CPS spokesman, said the average charter high school
student's ACT score was "0.4 points greater" than at other district
schools and that charter high schools have better attendance and
graduation rates than comparable district-run schools. He said
charter elementary students are at least meeting standards on state
exams more often than children taking tests at "comparable
district-managed schools."

But education experts say meeting the state standard isn't enough to
put a student on track for college, that exceeding standards is
necessary for future success.

Rather than look at the percentage of students exceeding or meeting
standards, some experts prefer to calculate average scores on the
state tests. By that measure, too, elementary students at charter
schools and neighborhood schools in Chicago were in a virtual tie on
the reading and math exams last year, the Sun-Times/Medill Data
Project analysis found. And the average test scores for charter high
schools were only slightly higher than those at the city's
neighborhood high schools.

The analysis included results from 48 traditional CPS schools -
almost all of them neighborhood schools - that the city closed after
the last school year, citing poor academic performance, declining
enrollment and the costs of maintaining aging buildings.

Neither charters nor neighborhood schools require admissions tests.
Unlike charter schools, which can draw students from a broad
geographic area, neighborhood schools must adhere to CPS' attendance
boundaries.

Some education experts say charters are most comparable to magnet
schools - which dramatically outperform charters in Chicago - in that
both use random lotteries when there are more applicants than
available seats.

The analysis of the 2013 test results was similar to what CPS
officials found in a 2010 study ordered by Terry Mazany, who was
interim schools chief during the last six months of the Daley
administration. According to previously unreleased records, that
internal review found that charter students did far worse on the ISAT
than students at CPS-run magnet schools and only slightly better than
students at neighborhood schools.

"The results showed that they were virtually identical," Mazany said
of the 2010 study. "I found that surprising because charters are
based on a model that they have greater freedom, opportunity to be
innovative and be more flexible. So I would have intuitively expected
they would have been performing much better than the neighborhood
schools they were pitted against."

Mazany, who is president and chief executive officer of the Chicago
Community Trust, said the new analysis shows charter elementary
schools still don't show any advantage over neighborhood schools.

Pointing to charters' slightly higher scores on the PSAE as well as
the ACT, though, Mazany said, "For the high schools, charter schools
have developed an approach that is trending toward outperforming the
neighborhood high schools."

Mazany said that encouraging more charters won't necessarily improve
student performance.

"The growth of charter schools is based on the hypothesis that choice
drives improvement," he said. "What we've seen from your analysis is
that choice is not sufficient. . . . It's not a silver bullet."

More important than opening more charters, Mazany said, is how CPS
addresses funding problems, disengaged parents and what he decried as
the poor preparation of some teachers and principals.

In Illinois, charter schools were first allowed in the late 1990s,
and they remain concentrated largely in Chicago. The number of
students attending charters and contract schools in Chicago topped
57,000 at the beginning of this school year. There are 133 of the
privately run schools, up dramatically from 22 schools with about
15,000 students seven years ago.

Mazany called on CPS leaders to crack down more aggressively on
poorly performing charter schools.

"I do think there needs to be a higher bar set for what is expected
of these schools," Mazany said. "Clearly, the district - for
neighborhood schools - has looked at closing low-performing schools.
I don't see that same standard applied for charters. The
lower-performing schools seem to linger. There is advocacy around
keeping them open."

CPS officials said they created a "warning list" last year for
low-scoring charters, telling them they must improve or ultimately
face closing. And Byrd-Bennett noted that two charters were closed in
2013 for poor performance. "When any school fails to perform to the
standards our students deserve, we will take action," she said.

Two national studies in recent years also found little difference in
test scores between charters and other public schools in many areas
across the country, said Elaine Allensworth, director of the
University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

"Overall, it doesn't seem charters are doing any better with the kids
they get, but there is a lot of variation in performance among
charters," Allensworth said. "The bigger question is: What are they
doing at higher-performing schools that make them better and that can
be passed on to other schools?"
-----------------------------------
RELATED SIDEBAR STORY: SEE
http://www.suntimes.com/26033876-761/bill-to-cut-state-charter-school-panel-advances.html
-----------------------------------
SIDEBAR PHOTO: Chicago International Charter School, 3820 N
Spaulding Ave, on Thursday, April 3, 2014. | Chandler West/For
Sun-Times Media
-----------------------------------
Darnell Little is editor of the Medill Data Project at Northwestern University.
Email: dmihalopoulos@suntimes.com --- Twitter: @dmihalopoulos
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