Charter schools in Indiana picked up an endorsement this week from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. A report from the center says reading and math gains for Indiana charter students were significantly better than for their peers in traditional public schools.
“Significantly” is a relative term, however. Jonathan Plucker, director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University, pointed out that most of the reported differences between students in charter schools and students in traditional public schools were tiny, less than 0.1 standard deviation.
“From my perspective, they found no difference between the two types of schools,” Plucker said.
CREDO looked at test-score gains from 2004 to 2008 for students at 62 Indiana charter schools and compared each to the gain expected for a “virtual control record” – a student of the same age, gender, race or ethnicity and initial test score at the charter student’s feeder school.
The result was that, in reading, students in 43 percent of charter schools gained more than their peers in traditional public schools, and students in 55 percent showed no significant difference. In math, 26 percent of charter schools did better than traditional schools and 74 percent fared the same.
The report said black students had higher learning gains in charter schools than peers in traditional public schools, and poor students did better in math if they were in charter schools. Hispanic students had comparable gains in charter schools and traditional schools.
CREDO is known for a 2009 national study that found no significant difference in learning gains between charter schools and traditional public schools. It has produced reports on 16 states, and Indiana is one of only five where charters produced better gains than traditional public schools.
Margaret Raymond, the director of the research center, told the Indianapolis Star the Indiana results were “amazingly positive.” She said Indiana tied with Louisiana for the best charter-school results among states that CREDO has studied.
Does this mean the Indiana legislature should expand the number of charter schools in the state and loosen restrictions on charter schools? Not necessarily.
House Bill 1002, part of the Daniels-Bennett education agenda, has been approved by the House and is expected to pass the Senate. It would extend sponsorship of charter schools to a state charter board, the mayors of mid-size cities and private colleges and universities. (Charters are now sponsored only by Ball State University and the mayor of Indianapolis). Another measure, Senate Bill 1, would allow half the teachers in any charter school to be unlicensed.
But Raymond told the Star that states with the best charter-school results have “rational” laws and high-quality sponsors. If that’s the case, opening the doors to many more sponsors and loosening requirements could arguably weaken the future performance of Indiana charter schools.