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Study Suggests Massachusetts Charter Schools Close Achievement Gap

by Michael Higham, published

achievement gap

The Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) released a study on February 28 with data suggesting the success of Massachusetts charter schools. The surface finding was that charter students are 1.5 and 2.5 months ahead in reading and math, respectively, than traditional public school (TPS) students. Tweet the study: Tweet

CREDO admits that the report and its data is tough to understand. Statistics are provided in standard deviation for accurate analysis and admits, "[U]nfortunately, these units do not have much meaning for the average reader." CREDO insists that every 0.05 standard deviation equates to 1.8 months of learning.

The city of Boston is heavily analyzed in the study since it encompasses a diverse demographic and experienced the most growth from its charter students.

The following graph compares the growth of charter and TPS students in Boston, particularly minority and low-income students:


close achievement gap

While most low-income minority students are shown to be behind in reading, charter students in these circumstances appear to perform better. In terms of mathematics achievement, Boston's charter schools are serving these students more effectively.

The difference in charter performance is not as drastic when the whole state is taken into account. There is still an improvement, however:


achievement gap closure

What CREDO found was not at the expense of TPS performance. The study said, "the performance of students enrolled in Boston’s TPS remained generally stable over the sample period," suggesting that charters were more effective in fostering achievement. Tweet it: Tweet

Director of CREDO, Margaret Raymond, explained two ways the results for Boston are significant:

"First, they provide an example for charter schools elsewhere in the state, where performance was not as strong. Second, and more important, the Boston charter schools offer students from historically underserved backgrounds a real and sustained chance to close the achievement gap."

English-learning students did not benefit from charter schools, however. These charter students were behind 0.13 standard deviations (four and a half months) compared to those at a TPS. Both school types have English-learning students significantly under-performing in reading.

Charter schools are subject to controversy in some cases. Simply put, charter schools are publicly funded, but privately operated and may not be subject to the same regulations as a TPS.

Underperforming schools sometimes face charter conversions as part of a turnaround attempt and are typically resisted by affected teachers and teachers unions.

The findings of CREDO's report may serve as a basis for proponents of school reforms and charter school growth. Breaking down why Boston's charter schools are improving the achievement gap would be most important for educators. Share report: Tweet

Full report from CREDO on the performance of Massachusetts charter school can be downloaded here.

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