KET’s Kentucky Tonight discussion on charter schools yesterday was nothing if not lively. With Kentucky’s Secretary of Education Hal Heiner and “Old Guard” Kentucky Senator Gerald Neal on the panel along with our own Jim Waters and executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents Tom Shelton, things were bound to be interesting.
However, perhaps most interesting of all for me was a Heiner/Neal back-and-forth about the value of Maryland’s charter schools as a model to build a charter program for Kentucky.
Neal kept pushing Maryland throughout the broadcast until Heiner finally shut him down, saying that Maryland’s charters perform near the bottom.
Wow, I thought. I have not seen anything on that. How do Maryland’s charter schools perform?
Sadly, as Dr. Joseph Waddington, Assistant Professor, Educational Policy Studies & Evaluation, University of Kentucky pointed out to the Kentucky Board of Education last week,
“Not every study meets important thresholds of methodological rigor.”
In fact, a lot of charter research is of poor quality. The iffy quality of the data on charters even extends to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Thanks in part to inadequate student sampling of charter schools, this federal assessment isn’t a very useful tool for charter research. Too often, NAEP scores are not even reported for some states’ charter schools. For example, Indiana and Massachusetts scores for charter schools are not available from the 2015 NAEP.
Still, I decided to take a look at what the NAEP does report for eighth grade reading and math in charters in Maryland and other states. I got a mild surprise when I did that.
It turns out that while many charter states such as Indiana and Massachusetts were missing score information, Maryland and a number of other states did have scores both for their total charter school population and for their black students. When I ranked those scores using the NAEP Data Explorer’s Statistical Significance testing tools, Maryland did indeed wind up consistently around the bottom end of the NAEP stack for both math and reading in Grade 8 testing for all students.