A new study from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas claims that charter schools are 40 percent more productive than traditional public schools. They found that for every $1000 invested, charter schools obtain approximately a year and half more in student learning than traditional public schools — meaning, in essence, charter schools can be just as effective as traditional public schools at nearly half the cost.
These are incredibly strong findings for charter schools. If charter schools can do everything traditional public schools do at nearly half the cost why shouldn’t policymakers invest more in their expansion? The problem is this study doesn’t even attempt to determine if charter schools can provide the same services with fewer funds than traditional public schools. While the study excludes funding for pre-k and adult education from their calculations — services many traditional schools offer but most charter schools don’t — the authors did not make any adjustments for the fact that:
- Traditional public schools are much more likely than charter schools to provide costly services such as transportation and extracurricular activities such as athletics, band, theater, and civic clubs.
- A smaller proportion of charter schools than traditional public schools are high schools which typically require significantly more funding than elementary and middle schools.
- Traditional public schools enroll a larger proportion of special needs students such as special education and English Language Learners (ELL) who typically require more funding than the average student. This is especially true for severely disabled students which typically cost districts four times more to educate than the average student. However, charter schools rarely enroll severely disabled students.
- A number of charter schools are located in buildings owned by traditional public schools at no or reduced costs to the charter school. Even though by doing so traditional public school are in fact subsidizing charter schools, this is not accounted for within the study so it appears that traditional public schools are using more funds than charter schools.
The authors claim they did not make these and other adjustments, “To avoid the appearance of taking an advocacy position…” However, making an apples to apples comparison of how much funding charter schools receive to provide similar services as traditional public schools is not taking an advocacy position. It can be done with objective statistics.
Yet, as the authors note doing so is extremely difficult, if not impossible, as it would take going through every line item of the budgets for both charter schools and traditional public school districts. While indeed it would an arduous undertaking, it is the only way to accurately determine if charter schools can educate our students as well as traditional public schools but at a lower cost.
Until such a study is conducted that at least attempts to compare the funding for similar services provided, such claims that charter schools are more productive than traditional public schools cannot be substantiated. – Jim Hull
EdWeek’s annual Diplomas Count report shows that the U.S. high school on-time graduation rate has hit an all-time high with 81 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school. You may remember back in April another report also found high school graduation rates were at an all-time high. Both reports were based on similar data so it is not surprising they found similar results. But this most recent report sheds a brighter light on how state graduation rates have changed over time, especially between 2007 and 2012 —the most recent year available to calculate graduation rates. An examination of EdWeek’s data shows that in 2007, 19 states had graduation rates below 75 percent. By 2012 that number dropped to just six states. In fact, just two states (Nevada and Mississippi) currently have graduation rates under 70 percent compared to 11 states back in 2007.
So, states are in fact making tremendous progress in improving their on-time high school graduation rates at a time when many states have actually made it harder to earn a high school diploma. What remains to be seen is if this trend will continue t as states implement the Common Core State Standards, a more rigorous set of benchmarks that aim to prepare all students for college and careers. If states provide districts with the resources they need to effectively implement the CCSS, it is likely more students will not only earn a high school diploma but be more successful after high school as well.
State Graduation Rates
- Most states have improved their graduation rates since 2007.
- All but three states (Rhode Island, Michigan, and South Dakota) improved their on-time graduation rates between 2007 and 2012.
- Ten states were able to improve their graduation rates by 10 or more points during this same period.
- New Mexico made the greatest improvement by increasing their graduation rate from 59 to 74 percent.
- Large gaps remain between states
- There is a 33 percentage point gap between Vermont -the state with the highest graduation rate- (93 percent) and Nevada which has the lowest graduation rate (60 percent).
- Six states have graduation rates under 75 percent while 15 states have graduation rates of 85 percent or higher.
National Graduation Rates
- The national graduation rate hit an all-time high.
- Eighty-one percent of students who entered 9th grade in the fall of 2008 graduated with at least a standard high school diploma by the summer of 2012. This is the highest level seen since the late 1960s.
- From 2007 to 2012 the graduation rate increased by seven points.
- Graduation rates had remained relatively stagnant between the late 1960s and 2007.
- Attainment gaps have narrowed
- While graduation rates for white students have improved, graduation rates for black and Hispanic students have improved at a faster rate.
- The graduation rate for Hispanic students jumped from 62 percent in 2007 to 76 percent in 2012— a 14 percentage point improvement. However, the graduation rate for Hispanic students was still nine points lower than that of their white classmates.
- Black students made headway as well by improving their graduation rate at a greater rate than the national average of seven points. Yet, there is still a 17 point gap in graduation rates between black and white students.
- Large gaps also remain for other groups of students.
- 14 point gap between economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged students (72 and 86 percent).
- 22 point gap between students with and without disabilities (61 and 83 percent).
- 22 point gap between Limited English Proficient and English Proficient students (59 and 81 percent.)
Today, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the results of the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in mathematics and reading for our nation’s 12th graders. While the nation as a whole has seen significant improvements at the 4th and 8th grade levels, the same improvement has yet to show up at the end of high school. In neither math nor reading did scores significantly change from 2009—the last time 12th grade NAEP was administered. However, scores in math are higher than they were in 2005—the furthest back math scores can be compared. On the other hand, reading scores have remained relatively unchanged over the past decade and were slightly lower than in 1992—the first year the reading assessment was administered.
It is important to keep in mind that results for our 12th graders are dependent on how many students remained in school. Unlike at 4th and 8th grades where students are required to be in school, at the 12th grade level most students have the option of dropping out. When our high schools retain a larger proportion of students it could impact the results. This indeed may be the case as it was reported last week that our national graduation rate is at an all-time high of 80 percent– with a significant improvement since 2006. So it is possible that scores would have been higher if graduation rates remained near 70 percent as they were for most of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Yet, higher graduation rates can’t fully explain why scores at the 12th grade have basically flat-lined while they have accelerated in earlier grades because scores have not changed much for most student groups. The exception is math where Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students made significant gains from 2005 to 2013 (5, 7, and 10 points respectively) although none of that increase is due to any improvements since 2009. Most scores were relatively unchanged no matter if groups were defined by parent’s highest education level, male or female, or high or low-performer.
What is clear is that those students who took more rigorous courses achieved the highest scores. Those students who took Calculus scored the equivalent to nearly 4 more years worth of learning than students whose highest math course was Algebra II or Trigonometry and nearly 7 more years worth of learning than those students who never completed a course beyond Algebra I. In reading, those students who say they discuss reading interpretations nearly every day achieve the equivalent to nearly two years worth of learning over students who rarely discuss reading interpretations.
Last week’s news about our historic graduation rate is certainly worth celebrating. Schools have also made strides at enrolling more students in high-level courses. But today’s NAEP results show that much more work still needs to be done. Simply earning a high school diploma is not enough. Students need to succeed in rigorous courses in high school to gain the knowledge and skills needed for the 21st century labor market.– Jim Hull
With 80 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school, the Class of 2012 achieved the highest on-time graduation rate in U.S. history according to the 2014 Building a Grad Nation report. After graduation rates languished in the low 70s for nearly four decades, rates have accelerated dramatically since 2006, improving by eight percentage points in just six years. According to the report, if this rate of improvement continues the national graduation rate will reach 90 percent by 2020, a goal of the authors of Grad Nation.
While attainment gaps remain, the gap is narrowing between traditionally disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers. This is particularly true for the fastest growing group of students in our nation’s schools, Hispanics, whose graduation rate jumped from 61 percent to 76 percent between 2006 and 2012 alone. Black students made significant gains during this period as well improving their graduation rate from 59 percent to 68 percent. During this same time period White students saw their graduation rate improve from 80 percent to 85 percent. At these rates the attainment gap between Hispanic and White students will disappear within five years. It would take another decade for the Black/White attainment gap to close completely.
While this is certainly good news it actually doesn’t provide a complete picture of the success in raising high school graduate rates. This is because these are only on-time graduation rates and do not include those students who take longer than four years to earn a standard high school diploma. As CPE found in our report about late high school graduates, Better Late Than Never, our national high school graduation rate is likely about 5 percentage points higher if we include students who graduate within six years. This means that our public schools are likely graduating at least 85 percent of students. And since Black and Hispanic students are more likely to graduate late than their White classmates, the attainment gap is likely to be narrower as well. These are graduates who are far too often over looked as successes even though, as the Grad Nation report pointed out, districts across the nation have made significant efforts to get students back on the graduation track or re-enroll students who had dropped out completely to help them earn the same diplomas as their peers who graduated on-time. – Jim Hull
Today, Education Week (EdWeek) released its annual special report Quality Counts 2014, which included its annual State of the States report card. Massachusetts earned top honors in the Student Achievement category by earning a B while the nation as a whole earned a C-minus, up from a D-plus in 2008—the first year EdWeek graded states on measures of student achievement. The U.S. earned higher grades in the other two categories– School Finance and EdWeek’s Change for Success Index– where the nation as a whole earned a C and C-plus respectively.
EdWeek’s annual report card shows once again that states vary considerably not only in achievement but how they fund their schools and the opportunity children born in their state are likely to succeed later on in life. States such as Massachusetts and Maryland not only received high marks from EdWeek but have also been compared favorably to high performing countries in previous studies while those states receiving the lowest grades from EdWeek typically scored below most industrialized countries as well. In these lower performing states, the typical student will less likely to be able to compete in the global labor market upon graduating high school.
How states can boost student achievement in this post-recession era of fewer funds and more rigorous requirements is certainly not clear. EdWeek attempted to provide more clarity to this question by surveying school district administrators across the country about how to best improve our public schools. Respondents were generally supportive of charter schools, virtual learning, and homeschooling but didn’t see these alternatives as having a major impact. These district officials also didn’t feel state and federal policymakers had much influence on school policies. In their opinion, it was school district officials and local school board members who have the most impact on school policies, not state and federal officials who seem to drive more of today’s reforms. So for states to increase their grades and become more competitive internationally, real reforms need to come from the local level and for states and federal officials to support those efforts.
Here are some of the key findings from this year’s report card:
K-12 Achievement Index
How do states compare on the academic achievement of their students in elementary through high school?
- Public schools improved slightly since 2012- the last time the index was reported—but still earned a C-minus just as in 2012.
- The grade is based on the academic status and growth over time in math and reading scores, narrowing of poverty-based achievement gaps, as well as high school graduation rates and the performance on the advanced placement test.
- Massachusetts was once again top of its class in 2014 just has it has since 2008 by earning a B. Maryland and New Jersey scored slightly lower, but still earned a B and B-minus respectively.
- Just two states–Mississippi, and the District of Columbia– received failing marks in 2014 compared to four states in 2012.
- Thirty-two states earned grades between a D and C-minus.
Chance for Success Index
What are the odds that the average child who grows up in a particular state will do as well as the average child in the top-ranked state, at each stage of his or her educational life? (these stages are: the early childhood years, participation and performance in formal education, and educational attainment and workforce outcomes during adulthood)
- Massachusetts ranked first for the sixth consecutive year by being the only state to receive an A-minus, while Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and North Dakota earned a B-plus.
- This means that children in Massachusetts have the best chance of achieving positive life outcomes, according to EdWeek.
- On the other hand, children in Nevada, New Mexico, and Mississippi have the least chance of achieving positive life outcomes by earning a D and D-pluses, respectively.
- The nation as a whole earned a C-plus just as in 2013.
How much do states spend on their schools? Is the spending distributed equitably?
- Overall, the nation earned a C in School Finance similar to last year.
- Wyoming’s grade dropped from an A to an A-minus but still received the highest grade of any state just as in 2013. However, West Virginia, New York, and Connecticut were close behind, all earning a B-plus.
- On the other hand, four states — Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah — received a D while Idaho received a D-minus. No state received a failing grade.
- Out of the 12 states that improved their school finance scores North Dakota, North Carolina and New Hampshire made the greatest improvements by boosting their grades a half a letter.
- However, 35 states actually saw declines in their school finance score.
- States vary greatly in how much they spend on education even when taking regional cost differences into account.
- Wyoming spent the most per pupil with $19,534 and Utah spent the least with $6,905—a $12,629 difference in per pupil spending.
- There are also major differences in per pupil spending within states as well.
- On average states spend $4,566 more per pupil in districts at the 95th percentile in school spending than in districts at the 5th percentile.
- Alaska has the greatest difference at $13,023, while Utah had the smallest difference at $1,997 per pupil.
- Only seven states-Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming spent more in low-income districts than in the states’ wealthier districts.
School District Administrator Survey
- Nearly 9 of 10 respondents believed that accountability pressures have been a major driver of change in their districts.
- A slightly higher percentage of respondents believed economic and fiscal challenges were major drivers of change.
- About half believed private schools, virtual schools and homeschooling had some influence on their districts.
- A smaller percentage indicating that charter schools had some influence (probably because charters are present in far fewer districts nationwide).
- Keep in mind, just 1 in 10 respondents thought these other options had a significant influence on their district.
- Fifty-four percent of respondents believed that there needs to be a change in the current governance structure to meet today’s challenges.
- The most common change happening in districts surveyed were:
- Changing superintendents (66 percent).
- Expanding school choice (48 percent).
- Central office reorganization (30 percent).
- Mayoral takeover had happened in 3 percent of surveyed districts.
- Most respondents supported non-traditional options such as virtual learning (74 percent), charter schools (59 percent), and homeschooling (58 percent).
- Few supported vouchers (14 percent).