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|This article was originally published as the Executive Summary of the Research and Development Report of the same name. The sample survey data are from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Reading and Mathematics Charter School Pilot Study.|
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) conducted a pilot study of America's charter schools and their students as part of the 2003 NAEP assessments in reading and mathematics at the fourth-grade level. NAEP also surveyed participating charter schools about their practices, structure, and governance.
Charter schools are public schools of choice. A number of states have few or no charter schools; many charter schools have just recently opened; and some charter schools last only a few years. All of these factors make the selection of a representative sample challenging.
For example, the final sample of 150 charter schools was obtainable only after multiple sources of information were consulted. Information from local school administrators, follow-up interviews, and field staff were used to update and verify the original school questionnaire data.
While charter schools are similar to other public schools in many respects, they differ in several important ways, including the makeup of the student population and their location. For example, in comparison to other public schools, higher percentages of charter school fourth-grade students are Black and attend schools in central cities.
Thus, when comparing the performance of charter and other public school students, it is important to compare students who share a common characteristic. For example, in mathematics, fourth-grade charter school students as a whole did not perform as well as their public school counterparts. However, the mathematics performance of White, Black, and Hispanic fourth-graders in charter schools was not measurably different from the performance of fourth-graders with similar racial/ethnic backgrounds in other public schools.
In reading, there was no measurable difference in performance between charter school students in the fourth grade and their public school counterparts as a whole. This was true even though, on average, charter schools have higher proportions of students from groups that typically perform lower on NAEP than other public schools have. In reading, as in mathematics, the performance of fourth-grade students with similar racial/ethnic backgrounds in charter schools and other public schools was not measurably different.
There are also instances where the performance of students with shared characteristics differed. For example, among students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, fourth-graders in charter schools did not score as high in reading or mathematics, on average, as fourth-graders in other public schools.
When considering these data, it should be noted that the charter school population is rapidly changing and growing. Future NAEP assessments may reveal different patterns of performance. Further, NAEP does not collect information about students' prior educational experience, which contributes to present performance. Nonetheless, the data in this report do provide a snapshot of charter school students' current performance.