When federal statistics showed test scores lower in charter than in regular schools, some charter school supporters insisted this must result from charter schools enrolling harder-to-teach minority students. Data show, however, that typical charter school students are not more disadvantaged, yet their average achievement is not higher. Even if some charter schools are superior, deregulation also permits charter schools that are inferior, with average performance no higher than in regular public schools. Debates spurred by federal charter school test data show how all debates about education could be improved: by carefully accounting for the difficulty of educating particular groups of students before interpreting test scores, and by focusing on student gains, not their level of achievement at any particular time.
Martin Carnoy is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and professor of education and economics at Stanford University. Rebecca Jacobsen is a research assistant of the Economic Policy Institute, a graduate student in politics and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and formerly a teacher in New York City and Connecticut public schools.
1. The reaction to the AFT's report on charter school scores; 2. Can the 'dust-up' lead to a new consensus in education research and policy?; 3. Problems with the critiques of the NAEP report by charter school supporters; 4. Are charter school students more disadvantaged than regular public school students, and does this explain charter schools' unexpectedly low NAEP scores?; 5. What we know about relative charter and regular public school student achievement; 6. The philosophy of charter schools; 7. Conclusion; Appendix A. Using different standards for evaluating charter and regular public schools; Appendix B. Alternative presentations of NAEP charter school demographic data.