Indiana students lost ground academically after they transferred from public schools to charter schools, according to a new study by Indiana University education professors.
The students tended to catch up with their peers if they stayed in their charter school long enough. But here’s the rub: many did not. The study found that nearly half of the charter-school students returned to public schools within three years after leaving them.
The results don’t mean that charter schools are doing a bad job, said Hardy Murphy, a clinical professor in the IU School of Education in Indianapolis and one of the authors. Research has shown that students are likely to fall behind any time they move from one school to another.
“The problem is, charter schools were created as an option where that sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen,” Murphy said. “It’s about the expectations and how they’ve been marketed.”
The researchers presented the study, “Unfulfilled Promises: Transfer to a Charter School and Student Achievement in Indiana,” at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in New York. Along with Murphy, authors are Gary Pike, Patricia Rogan and Demetrees Hutchins.
Much of initial reporting on a groundbreaking study of Indiana’s school voucher program, including mine, suggested that voucher students do OK academically if they stay in private schools for four years. But a closer look raises questions about that narrative.
The study’s headline finding is that voucher students, on average, fall significantly behind their public-school peers in math performance while faring about the same in English/language arts. Given what we know, that’s really the message policymakers and the public should take from the research.
The study, by Joe Waddington of the University of Kentucky and Mark Berends of the University of Notre Dame, was released Monday. Its findings were covered by National Public Radio, Chalkbeat, Education Week, the Indianapolis Star and the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. A headline in the Washington Post was typical: “School voucher recipients lose ground at first, then catch up to peers, studies find.”
But the students who “catch up” are only a handful among voucher students included in the study. The study analyzed test scores for 3,913 students who received vouchers during the first four years of the Indiana program, from 2011-12 to 2014-15. But they had four years of test-score data for only about 5 percent of those students.