Putting Education Reform To The Test

Researcher Says State Charter School Study Was ‘Poorly Done’ And ‘Biased’


Research by a UCF business professor suggests these high school students from Pensacola outperform their charter school peers.

A University of Central Florida business professor and the Florida Department of Education have been swapping research the past week in a debate about whether charter schools perform better than district schools.

UCF professor Stanley Smith opened the debate with his analysis of student achievement at traditional and charter schools.

His general assessment is that traditional schools outperform charters when controlling for income levels and the percentage of minority students.

The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) has its own research that shows very different results. Generally, charter schools perform better than their traditional counterparts, according to the agency’s analysis.

Smith’s retort?

“It was like a poorly done, biased infomercial for charter schools,” Smith said.

“If one examines their results carefully, they are consistent with my findings, but they are misleading because the ‘study’ does not correct for income level in most or all of the comparisons.”

Smith said he was motivated to look at the performance of charter schools because of the state’s study.

Smith went on to say that almost every demographic group would be expected to perform better in charter schools.

He said the average African-American charter student, for example, probably comes from a higher income home than the average African-American student at a traditional school.

“All they are doing is capturing the income effect and calling it a charter effect in comparison after comparison,” Smith said.

Adam Miller, Charter Schools Director at FDOE, didn’t know why Smith’s results were so different.

The state’s most recent annual report for the 2010-2011 school year analyzed FCAT scores as well as demographics, like race and income.

“When you use statistical modeling and regression analysis, everything really depends on how you set that up,” Miller said.

Charter schools are public schools that are operated independently from the school district. They typically have open enrollment, although they may cater to just a handful of grade levels.

After StateImpact Florida published Smith’s findings, he was asked to write about his research for the Tampa Bay Times. The op-ed article can be found here.


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