Monday, September 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A closer look at charter school performance

PHILADELPHIA — Misleading statistics have a tendency to stick. And for education in Pennsylvania, it’s the data suggesting that charter schools underperform compared to district public schools.

Rep. James Roebuck (D., Phila.) the Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, recently released a report about the status of charter schools and the progress of reform legislation using that information at the center of its conclusions.

“While the overall academic performance of charter schools and particularly cyber charter schools is disappointing and trails the academic performance of traditional public schools, there are many examples of charter schools that are successful in terms of academic performance and in being innovative in their approach to educating students,” Roebuck said.

The statewide average score for district public schools on the School Performance Profile issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Education is 77.1 For charter schools, it’s 65.7.

However, there are 162 brick-and-mortar charter schools and the majority — 86 schools — are concentrated in Philadelphia. Twenty of those 86 are Renaissance Schools, which are district schools turned over to charter operators. Both traditional charter schools and Renaissance Schools have outperformed their district counterparts when put side-by-side with like demographics.

The average SPP Score for charter schools in Philadelphia is 66.9, while for district schools it’s 57.5.

Compared to Promise Academies, which are district-run turnaround schools, Renaissance schools are also showing growth. Grover Cleveland Mastery Charter School, for instance, gained more than 10 percentage points in math and reading proficiency one year after the change in management.

Roebuck’s comprehensive charter school legislation, House Bill 934, would maintain the criterion from the original charter school authorization law that these schools “encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods” and serve as a model for other schools. In Philadelphia, they are doing that.

The Pennsylvania Independent is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government by reporting on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is funded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a libertarian nonprofit organization.

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