Why Kentucky should not delay charter schools

We are hearing a lot lately from some quarters that Kentucky needs to delay funding charter schools.

I think that is a mistake, especially for the kids who could benefit, and recent test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) in eighth grade math backs me up.

I focused on eighth grade math because this is Kentucky’s real Achilles’ heel in NAEP. We score lowest on this NAEP area by far. And, results are far worse still for the state’s black students.

Unfortunately, the NAEP TUDA doesn’t provide really good research information for charter school evaluation. The 2015 TUDA generally didn’t sample enough charter school students to develop credible scores for racial minorities. Also, due to the small student samples, even when NAEP did report scores for minorities in charter schools, the sampling errors were quite large, so it takes a big score difference to show a statistically significant difference.

Despite this, three city school systems that took NAEP Grade 8 Math TUDA in 2015 had enough black students tested to report scores for both those in charter schools and in schools that are not charters. The table, which I developed using the new NAEP Data Explorer, tells the tale.

Atlanta - Baltimore City - Chicago G8 NAEP TUDA Math for charters and not Charters 2015

As you can see, blacks in both Atlanta’s and Chicago’s charter schools outscored blacks in the not charter schools in both cities by a statistically significant amount.

Blacks in Baltimore City charters also appear to outperform, but the sampling error is so large that even the 8-point difference in scores is not large enough to be statistically significant.

An 8-point difference on NAEP is actually a fairly notable difference, by the way. If we look at white scores for Grade 8 Math for all the states in 2015, if Kentucky’s NAEP scale score were raised by 8 points, its relative ranking would increase from 47th place to 32nd place. That is a notable change!

There is another interesting thing with these NAEP examples. The NAEP TUDA doesn’t consider how long a student has been in a charter school. Kids in their first year get tested as part of the sample. That works against charters getting a fair evaluation because, as we have discussed before, research from multiple sources shows students generally need to spend more than just one year in charters for the benefits to show. Thus, NAEP’s sampling process actually creates a bias against accurate portrayal of true charter school performance.

Still, even though the NAEP really isn’t a very precise and accurate tool for charter school research, the available data for 2015 for large cities indicates that where data is available, it looks like charters are getting the job done for black students.

And, that’s why continuing to delay implementing charters in Kentucky just isn’t the right thing to do if you really care about students.

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