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State-approved charter schools are not shining models of success -- at least not yet

The governor and the Georgia Legislature have pinned most of their school reform hopes on start-up, independent charter schools, which are brand-new schools launched outside the confines and control of the local districts.

Most charter schools in Georgia have not been start-ups, but conversions in which existing schools are granted greater independence by local boards of education or they have been new schools approved by the school board.

That has been changing because the state has made it easier to not only start a local charter school independent of a local school board -- or even with a hostile school board -- but also to secure funding for it. So, we are now seeing more independent schools, which has been a goal of the Legislature.

Here is the exact breakdown provided this morning by  Louis J. Erste,  DOE's associate superintendent for policy, charter schools, district flexibility, and governmental affairs

Of the 117 charter schools in 2014-15:

Conversion Schools - 31

Locally Approved - 71

Start-ups - 86

State Charter Schools - 15

To encourage more autonomous charters, Georgia created a State Charter Schools Commission to spur more innovative charters outside the control of the districts. The commission has the  power to approve charter schools over the objections of  local school boards.

But a new report finds charters approved by the commission do not have a rousing track record of success in Georgia, which could mean the initial wariness of the school boards was warranted.

Or, the lackluster track record could signify these young schools are having growing pains and student performance might improve as the schools mature.

The AJC just ran a story on a 232-page report by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement on the performance of commission-approved charter schools.

Education writer Ty Tagami notes:

The State Charter Schools Commission assessed the performance of 13 schools it authorized and found a mix of outcomes, with performance generally on par with traditional public schools.

The commission's report did not address the dozens of charter schools local school districts have authorized, but it's the commission rather than local districts that is identified as the charter school authority in a school-reform initiative with broad backing by the Georgia General Assembly.

The establishment of more charter schools is a major element in Gov. Nathan Deal's proposed "Opportunity School District, "which would be empowered to take over failing schools. The law authorizing it, passed by the General Assembly with a two-thirds vote this year, will amend the state constitution if voters ratify it next year.

The State Charter Schools Commission report says state-chartered elementary schools did not perform as well as the average public elementary school in Georgia, while most state-chartered middle schools performed as well or better. The high school comparisons were mixed, with the charter schools generally performing better in language arts than in math, science and social studies.

My own takeaway after reading the GOSA report: State-approved charters don't have much to share about elementary school reform, but they show at-risk middle school students benefit by smaller schools and focused classes. However, neither charter nor traditional high schools have much to tell us about raising achievement levels among struggling teens.

The under performance of middle and high school charter schools in STEM fields suggests these schools are experiencing an even harder time attracting effective STEM teachers than traditional public schools.

Here are excerpts from the report: (You can find detailed results for each of the state commission charter schools.) Read the report and judge for yourself.

  • The majority of state charter schools serving elementary grades do not perform as well as the average public elementary school in the state.
  • Most state charter schools serving middle grades perform as well or better than the average public middle school in the state.
  • Performance of state charters serving middle grades is particularly strong in reading and language arts. However, performance in science and social studies is much weaker.
  • The performance of state charter schools serving high schools grades is mixed when compared to the average public high school in the state.
  • In 9th Grade Literature, four of nine state charters are performing above the state average and the performance of the other five is indistinguishable from the state average. For the four schools with test scores for American Literature, two contribute more to student achievement than the state average while the other two contribute less than the state average.
  • In Analytic Geometry four of five commission charter schools perform below the state average and one performs above the state average.
  • In Biology three of six schools perform below the state average and the performance of the other half is indistinguishable from the state average.
  • Similarly, in Physical Science four of seven schools have estimated contributions to student achievement below the state average, two are indistinguishable from the state average and one exceeds the state average. Performance is also generally low in Economics.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.