CREDO report boosts Indy charter schools

Indianapolis charter schools got a vote of confidence from a recent report by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, better known as CREDO. The study concluded urban charter schools are outperforming neighboring public schools, and Indy charters are doing better than most.

“It confirms a lot of the results we’re seeing on the ground,” said Brandon Brown, director of charter schools for the Indianapolis mayor’s office. “If you look across the state, the performance of charter schools is mixed. But if you look specifically at Indianapolis charter schools, they tend to consistently outperform traditional public schools.”

CREDO has critics. Some say it exaggerates the difference in performance between charter schools and public schools*. Others question its methodology, which compares charter students to statistically constructed “virtual twins” in public schools. There’s also concern that CREDO’s approach distracts from what makes schools effective and contributes to the “charter wars” – a zero-sum battle for reputation and students.

But the studies carry a lot of cachet and typically get a lot of press coverage. The center and its director, Macke Raymond, have been churning out detailed reports on charter schools for years. They have a giant database of student records and use a methodology that’s complex and hard to second-guess.

In the latest study, CREDO looked at charter schools in 41 urban areas from 2006 to 2011 and concluded that, in many cities, charters are doing a better job of boosting test scores than nearby public schools serving similar students. The study says that, overall, urban charter schools are providing students with the equivalent of 40 days of additional learning in math and 28 days in reading.

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Charter school study: ‘Tiresome’ questions remain

More than three-fourths of Indiana charter schools perform worse or at least no better than local public schools, according to a study released last month by Stanford University researchers.

That’s one way of spinning the results of the study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO – although it’s not the finding that was played up in most news coverage. Nevertheless, there it is:

// In math, 42 percent of charter schools performed worse than traditional public schools, 23 percent performed better, and 35 percent were not statistically different.

// In English, 18 percent of charter schools performed better than traditional public schools, 8 percent performed worse and 74 percent were not statistically different.

Most media reports focused on the study’s finding that charter students, on average, scored better on tests than they would have if they attended their local public schools; or its conclusion that Indiana charter schools are among the best in the nation at improving their students’ test scores.

An Indianapolis Star editorial even argued the study should put an end to the “tiresome debates” over the effectiveness of charter schools. It won’t, and it shouldn’t.

A few issues that deserve continued exploration:

// Are charter-school students representative of the general population? The Star highlighted the surprising finding that Indiana charter schools serve significantly more poor and minority students than traditional public schools. CREDO reaches this conclusion (see Table 1, page 12) by comparing charter students with students in “feeder schools,” which include all public schools where at least one student attends a charter school. CREDO Director Macke Raymond, the author of the study, very patiently tried to explain to me, by phone, why this approach makes sense from an economics standpoint.

But there are charter schools all across Indiana, so the profile of feeder schools whose students attend charters looks similar to the state as a whole. Most Indiana charter schools, however, are in high-poverty urban areas like Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and the Calumet region. So a non-economist might expect charter students to look like public-school students in those cities. Continue reading

Stanford study: Indiana charters better than most

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. Continue reading