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Achievement Gap Not Narrowing in California Charters

Recently, the California Charter School Association (CCSA) claimed that the state’s charter schools were narrowing the Black-White achievement gap.

The Chartering and Choice as an Achievement Gap-Closing Reform report, released by CCSA in October 2011, details the performance and enrollment trends of African American students in both charter public and traditional public schools. The results show that California charter public schools are effectively accelerating the performance of African American students, and that African American students are enrolled at higher percentage in the state's charters, among other findings.

Not so, explains Arizona State University's David Garcia, an expert on charter school research.

Garcia finds flaws in the report’s methods, and he explains that the gap is “largely unaffected by charter enrollment.” Further, Garcia pours cold water on the report’s claim that innovative practices are at work in charter schools that aren’t found in traditional public schools.

Significant findings of the original report:

Chartering and Choice as an Achievement Gap-Closing Reform finds that charter schools are effectively accelerating the performance of African American public school students. African American students and families are experiencing these results:

  --African Americans are enrolled at higher rates in charter public schools than traditional public schools at all grade levels, in some cases at close to twice the rate.

  --Charter schools serving African American students are realizing better outcomes, in spite of having similar parent education levels and student retention rates as their traditional public school counterparts.

Garcia's review was produced by the National Education Policy Center with funding from theGreat Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Garcia observes that the data in the report itself show that “African Americans in California charter schools started out higher and actually lost ground relative to traditional public schools over time,” with traditional public schools outgaining charter schools by 6 points. Moreover, he writes, “closing the achievement gap requires that African American students make more gains relative to White students – and by this definition, traditional public schools outperformed charter schools.”

So, another charter report released with mixed or invalid results.  Nothing new.

Garcia wrote, that the evidence presented again demonstrates what other studies have found: namely, that “charter schools are of variable quality, and there are very few innovations in charter school practices as a whole that are not also present in traditional public schools.”

In response to another study on charters, the Washtington Post's Valerie Strauss wrote in her Answer Sheet Blog:

None of this means, of course, that all charter schools are bad. Some are terrific, though growing evidence shows that the majority are not better and may be worse — when it comes to test scores — than traditional schools.

The problem is that they are seen by many reformers as THE answer to failing traditional schools, and they aren’t.

While she isn't discussing the California study or Garcia's review, her conclusion can be applied.  Charters may be a solution, but they aren't the silver bullet that reformers believe to be true.

In some instances, charters are doing an excellent job narrowing achievement gaps and improving graduation rates, but those successes have not been proven to be the case in large scale studies.  The same can be said for studies on traditional public schools.

At the end of the day, doubling down on unproven policies will continue to divert vital educational dollars from struggling public schools.

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ITeachQ is an educator who is an advocate for research-based change in schools and strong public schools as the key to creating a better future. ...