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Study: Charter schools are improving, but performance still close to public schools

by Jeanette Rundquist
The Star-Ledger
June 26, 2013

Students in charter schools fared better than those in traditional public schools in some states — including New Jersey — but a majority of charters across the United States still deliver no better education than traditional public schools in reading, and 40 percent are about the same in math, according to a new study released Tuesday by researchers at Stanford University.

The study, which updates a 2009 report and which Stanford researchers described as the largest study of charter school performance in the United States, looked at test scores from 1.5 million charter school students in 27 states or districts, including New Jersey, and compared them with their “virtual twin” students attending traditional public schools.

The study determined that about a quarter of charter schools performed better than regular public schools — specifically, 25 percent did better in reading and 29 percent better in math.

The original study, which looked at charter schools in 16 states, showed only 17 percent of charter schools outperformed traditional public schools in math, and 37 percent fared worse.

“The results reveal that the charter school sector is getting better on average and that charter schools are benefiting low-income, disadvantaged and special education students,” said Margaret Raymond, director of the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford.

New Jersey is one of 11 states or districts where charter school students’ performance outpaced traditional public schools in both subjects in the new study. The state was not included in the original research.

“It’s not saying 100 percent of New Jersey charter schools are hitting it out of the park,” said Dev Davis, research manager at CREDO. “Overall, they’re doing better than the national picture.”

New Jersey has about 84 charter schools, educating about 23,000 students.

Nationally, there are about 2.3 million students in privately run, publicly funded charter schools, or about 4 percent of the total public school population, according to the study.

Some in education were quick to criticize the study.

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform took issue with the findings, calling the study “extremely weak in its methodology and alarming in its conclusions.”

“No matter how well-intentioned, the CREDO research is not charter school performance gospel,” said Jeanne Allen, president of the center. She said the CREDO study “is based on stacking mounds of state education department data into an analytical process that is decidedly lacking in rigor.”

New Jersey Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf applauded the findings of the study, which used the same data as a report released on the state’s charter schools in the fall.

“The Center for Research on Education Outcomes’ rigorous, independent analysis of the achievement results of charter schools in New Jersey shows that the results are clear – on the whole, New Jersey charter school students make larger learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school peers,” Cerf said in a statement.