Last week School Matters pointed out that Indiana school grades align with poverty: the more poor kids at a school, the higher the chance of a low grade. But there are many schools in the state that do quite well despite serving lots of students who are poor.
One in five high-poverty schools – where two-thirds or more of students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches – earned an A. More than one-third got an A or a B. These overachieving schools are found across the state. They are big and small, urban and rural. And almost none of them are charter schools.
It’s not just that charter schools got worse overall grades than traditional public schools. That’s not surprising, because many charters enroll disproportionate numbers of kids from low-income families. But even adjusting for poverty, charter schools fared worse.
Thirty-five percent of the state’s high-poverty schools – a total of 162 schools – received grades of A or B. But only three of those 162 were charter schools. Among all charter schools, 21.5 percent got an A or B, and most of those are not high-poverty charters.
It could be argued that, because many charter schools are located in and serve students from inner-city neighborhoods, it’s not fair to compare them to high-poverty schools across the state.
But even compared with other urban public schools, charter schools don’t do so well. Indiana charter schools have a similar grade distribution to much-maligned Indianapolis Public Schools. And if you look only at charter schools in Indianapolis, they do worse.
- Christel House Academy, an Indianapolis charter school favored by former state Superintendent Tony Bennett, got an F.
- The four Indianapolis and Gary School schools that were taken over by charter-school turnaround operators in 2012 all got Fs.
- KIPP Indianapolis, part of the widely acclaimed Knowledge Is Power Program system, got a C.
School grades don’t prove that charter schools are doing a bad job, of course. There are issues with Indiana’s grading system; and the whole idea is applying a single letter grade to a school seems suspect. But the results do strongly suggest there’s no magic to “charter-ness” – that charter schools don’t have a monopoly on what works.
Yet some officials continue to push charter schools as the way to improve public education. Look at Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s “road map” for education legislation, for example. Three of six proposals aim to promote the use of charter schools.
As Matthew Di Carlo explains in a recent three-part series at Shanker Blog, research shows there isn’t a lot of difference in overall effectiveness between charter schools and regular public schools. He argues that it’s time to end the “fruitless, deadlocked debate over whether charter schools ‘work.’”
No doubt some charter schools do a great job of helping poor children achieve. But so, obviously, do a lot of district schools in Indianapolis, Lafayette, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne and elsewhere. We should celebrate and learn from those schools.
Notes: I include the four Indianapolis and Gary “turnaround” schools with charter schools, since they are run by charter school operators and function like charters; but if they were not included, the overall results wouldn’t change. The urban public school districts included in the second chart are Indianapolis Public Schools, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Gary, Hammond and South Bend.
As always, readers are welcome to check the analysis and point out errors. Here are state data on school grades and socioeconomic indicators. I used free and reduced-price lunch data for fall 2012, the same academic year for which the school grades were calculated.