Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Study on NYC Charters Should Cause State Government to Get Movin'

The study by the New York City Charter Schools Evaluation Project, entitled "How New York City's Charter Schools Affect Achievement," released today and reported by several major news outlets, is strong and demonstrable evidence that charter schools have produced better academic results for students.

A copy of this definitive, careful study is here, and was authored by: Caroline Hoxby, National Bureau of Economic Research and Stanford University; Sonali Murarka, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; and Jenny Kang, National Bureau of Economic Research.

Policy Implications for New York for Race to the Top
Charter schools are working for children in New York, as this latest study confirms. Charter schools have succeeded in spite of receiving one-third less funding than district schools, primarily from being ineligible for facilities aid and from a "freeze" in the state operating funding formula imposed by the state Legislature for the current school year. In addition, New York State has only 37 charters remaining under the statutory cap of 200, of which only up to 18 remain for NYC Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, to approve.

This number of 18 charters more than likely will be reached next year, as nearly two dozen charter applications are presently under consideration by the New York City Department of Education.

The cap on charter schools and the inequitable funding of charter schools should be fixed for all the positive reasons found in this latest study. The charter cap and lack of facilities funding also puts New York State at a competitive disadvantage for federal Race-to-the-Top funds, totaling $4.35 billion for states. Technically, New York may "qualify" for submitting an application for this money, but other states have enacted measures to improve their chances for a Race to the Top grant, which could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Governor David Paterson and the New York State Legislature should not risk other states out-competing New York for Race to the Top funding. They should heed President Obama's call to lift the cap on the number of charters allowed; and provide equitable funding to charter schools, which is one of the key criteria for this funding. In addition, the state should enact a number of other measures to enable charter schools to reach more students (another Race to the Top criteria) including:

-- authorizing boards of cooperative education services (BOCES) to contract directly with charters to serve more students with disabilities;
-- allow charter schools to locate at more than a single site;

--allow for regional charter schools using a wider enrollment preference beyond the district of location;
-- operate pre-kindergarten programs; and other legislative changes.

Charter Design is Key to Higher Academic Outcomes
Interestingly, the study also ascribes the following policies characteristic of charter schools which have produced higher achievement:

a) a mission emphasizing academic performance as opposed to other goals;
b) a long school year;
c) greater number of minutes daily devoted to English;
d) a small rewards/small penalties discipline policy; and
e) performance-based teacher pay as opposed to a traditional pay scale based on seniority and credentials.

Background Summary of the NYC Charter Study
Student academic performance was measured through the 2007-08 school year using aggregate data from charter schools administering state exams, which are given in grades 3-12. Test score data from last year, school year 2008-09, was not included though charter schools continued their impressive academic gains.

Importantly, this study's comparisons were between students attending charter schools and students who were "lotteried out," that is, applied for charter school admission but did not get in. To quote the study: "This is a true apples-to-apples comparison. Lottery-based studies are scientific and reliable."

In sum, the study documents several positive charter school outcomes, and debunks several criticisms by opponents of charter school. For example:

1) Charter schools in New York City did a more effective job in narrowing the "Harlem-Scarsdale" achievement gap than district schools; that is, New York City students attending charter schools improved their test results closer to the suburban results than students in district schools.
2) Charter school students outperformed district students on the State’s ELA exam; in cases of students attending a charter school for at least three years, scores averaged 9 points higher.
3) Ninety-four percent of students attending charter schools in New York City were admitted on a lottery basis.
4) Charter school student applicants are much more likely to be black and much less likely to be Asian or white than the average student in the City's district schools.
5) Charter school applicants are more likely to be poorer than the average student in the City’s district schools.

The study's authors, Prof. Hoxby, Prof. Murarka and Jenny Kang have done a great service by substantively confirming what charter advocates have long held. Only now, charter opponents will have a much harder time peddling the old canards.

Peter Murphy

for The Chalkboard


Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.