Scathing Stanford CREDO Report Shows Ohio Traditional Public Schools Outperform Charters

Charter schools in Ohio are notorious because the state legislature, filled with money from supporters of some of the worst charters, has chosen hardly to regulate the charter school sector at all.  On Tuesday, the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a new study of the academic effectiveness of Ohio’s charters (as measured by standardized test scores).

The report is scathing: “First, recent efforts across Ohio to improve the quality of charter school performance are only dimly discernible in the analysis.  Overall performance trends are marginally positive, but the gains that Ohio charter school students receive even in the most recent periods studied still lag the progress of their traditional public school peers… Despite exemplars of strong results, over 40 percent of Ohio charter schools are in urgent need of improvement: they both post smaller student academic gains each year and their overall achievement levels are below the average for the state.  If their current performance is permitted to continue, the students enrolled in these schools will fall even further behind over time.”  “Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have had in a traditional public school, the analysis shows on average that the students in Ohio charter schools perform worse in both reading and mathematics.”

UPDATE: Margaret Raymond, Director of the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, spoke yesterday at the Cleveland City Club about CREDO’s new report on Ohio’s charter schools.  You can watch the video of the event here.  At approximately 50 minutes into the video, Raymond answers a question about the public policy climate for charter schools.  Here is some of what Raymond says:  “This is one of the big insights for me because I actually am a kind of pro-market kind of girl, but the marketplace doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education… I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career… Education is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work… I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state.  There are other supports that are needed… I think we need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools, but I also think we need to have more oversight of the overseers… the authorizers.”

Across the entire state, only in the Cleveland Municipal School District are charter schools out-performing their traditional public school peers.  In the other city districts that are featured—Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton—traditional public schools outperform charter schools.  In urban, suburban, rural and town categories of school districts, traditional public school students outperform their counterparts in charter schools.  Charter schools seem to do better only with middle school students (the report doesn’t speculate on the reason why), and charters run by the bigger Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) under-perform smaller charters.

CREDO found that students in poverty, and especially Black students in poverty, do slightly better in charter schools than their public school peers.  The researchers discovered that in Ohio there does not seem to be widespread cream-skimming in charters.  They serve many students in poverty. They also serve an equivalent number of English language learners and students with special needs: “Ohio charter schools enroll the same proportion of these student types as the district schools nearby and as the state as a whole, which is uncommon in the states we have studied to date.  For English Language Learners, enrollment in charter schools carries no significant benefit; their academic progress is less than native speakers, regardless of whether they attend traditional public schools or charter schools.  The difference between the sectors for English Language Learners is not significant.  A different picture was revealed for Special Education students.  The majority of Special Education students in Ohio charter schools have smaller gains than their traditional public school peers….”

The CREDO researchers do not name particular charter schools or CMO chains, but when it comes to Ohio’s notorious situation with charter school authorizers, they do name names: “The heterogeneity in authorizers is grounded in the enabling legislation, which permitted a wider range of organizations to assume the role than in other states… Students in charter schools authorized by Lucas County, Ohio Council of Community Schools, and St. Aloysius Orphanage have performed worse than traditional public schools, overall, in reading and math.”

Stanford CREDO is well known for the quality of its methodology and the transparency with which its reports explain the implications of research methodology for what can be concluded. The most basic measurement in such reports compares each charter school to a carefully constructed peer school.  Here is what the new report on Ohio says about that basic measurement: “In reading, 19 percent of charter schools perform significantly better than their traditional public school analogs, while 27.7 percent perform significantly better in math… Alternatively, 18 percent of Ohio charter schools post reading results that are significantly worse than the local traditional public school option, and 24 percent of Ohio charter schools do so for math.  The largest proportion of charter schools in Ohio do not differ significantly from traditional public schools in their communities, at 63 percent in reading and 49 percent in math.”  To simplify, 81 percent of charters perform the same or worse in reading, and 73 percent perform the same or worse in math compared with their traditional public school peers.

Stephen Dyer, former member of Ohio’s House of Representatives and former Akron Beacon-Journal reporter, blogging on the new CREDO report, asks readers, “to remember that more than $900 million went to Ohio charters last school year… And that the average Ohio student loses more than $300 a year because the state removes so much to pay for charters…  Is this level of commitment worth it?  For taxpayers, and most importantly, our kids both in charters and traditional public schools?”