Putting Education Reform To The Test

Researcher: Florida District Schools Outperform Charter Schools On Average

Stanley Smith / University of Central Florida

UCF Professor Stanley Smith says his research shows charter schools perform worse than non-charters when poor and minority students are taken into account.

While charter schools are an increasingly popular option for Florida students, a University of Central Florida researcher says they don’t perform as well as district schools.

Dr. Stanley Smith, a professor at the University of Central Florida’s business school, analyzed school grades of Florida elementary schools last summer, examining the effect of poverty and minority status on those grades.

Smith found that “when the poverty and minority characteristics of the student population are controlled, the average charter school performs significantly lower than the average traditional public school.”

Smith used complicated formulas (see documents) to conclude that:

The average charter school is doing about the same as the non-charter school when no adjustments are made for poverty and minority statuses.  When the adjusted scores are considered, the average charter school performs significantly worse than the average non-charter school.

These results call into question the emphasis by state education leaders — particularly Republicans — on charter schools, Smith said.

“Although charter schools may be cheaper for the state to fund, the adjusted scores suggest that Florida is also getting a lower return on these schools,” Smith said. “Is the lower average return on these schools worth the lower cost?”

According to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, “charter schools offer the potential to create high-performing public schools in districts typically plagued by poor student outcomes…To know whether charter schools are fulfilling their mission, we need rigorous evaluation of their performance, costs, and ability to address the unique needs of disadvantaged students.”

Charter schools can add requirements for their students — such as additional tutoring — to address problem areas such as math or reading.

A StateImpact Florida/Miami Herald investigation previously found that most charter schools don’t serve severely disabled students.

Dr. Smith says his findings do not suggest that all charters perform worse than traditional schools, but for now, he does think parents should take more care when enrolling kids in charters. Charter schools were more likely to earn an ‘A’ on state report cards last year, but also more likely to earn an ‘F’ as well.

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