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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Federal Data: Ohio Charter Schools Widen Ohio's Already Too Wide Achievement Gap

Recently, the White House put out a report outlining the country's student achievement gap, and the news wasn’t great for Ohio. 

We had the nation’s ninth largest reading gap between our highest and lowest performing schools, the second-largest math achievement gap, and the fourth largest graduation gap. While much of this difference can be explained by the high performance of our highest performing schools, the gap is and should be a serious concern for Ohio’s educators, parents and policy makers.

What the data show, however, is that far from being a solution to the achievement gap issue here, Ohio's charter schools are part of the problem.

I wrote about this issue at Innovation Ohio last night.

Here are what the data tell us:
  • Despite making up 8% of all Ohio school buildings, charters represent 13% of the worst-performing math buildings, 31% of the worst-performing reading buildings, and 78% of the buildings with the worst graduation rates.
  • Ohio’s achievement gap is 6% bigger in math, 8% bigger in reading and a whopping 23% bigger in graduation rates than they would be if the analysis included just local public schools.
  • And while the state’s achievement gap is still too large, in all three cases, eliminating charters from the calculation drops Ohio’s achievement gap ranking. Math drops from second to fourth greatest. Reading falls from ninth to 11th greatest. And the state’s graduation rate gap tumbles from fourth to 14th highest.
  • The achievement gap is greater in charter schools for math than it is in the local public schools
  • The charter school achievement gap is narrower in reading and graduation rates because charters’ highest performers are so low performing overall compared with local public schools. For example, the average graduation rate for the 19 highest-performing charters – defined as those that have greater than 60% graduation rates – is 65%. Those 19 charters represent 17% of eligible charters. The average rate for the highest performing local schools – 96% of which have graduation rates greater than the 60% threshold – is 91%.

There is work that needs done closing Ohio’s achievement gaps in all schools, no question. But what the federal data clearly show is that charter schools don’t provide an overall solution. In fact, they are part of the problem -- especially on graduation rates.

Folks in Youngstown and other places should take note of this federal data: Relying on charter schools to close achievement gaps in Ohio has not worked. In fact, it has led to greater gaps in student achievement overall. So before the new CEO in Youngstown decides to turn all of that city's schools into charters or something, here's hoping he or she looks at the evidence first and carefully considers district options.

As for the gaps themselves, much of Ohio’s gap problem is driven by our highest scoring local public buildings scoring so well. For example, while our lowest-performing math buildings score an average proficiency rate of 26% – the same as West Virginia – our remaining buildings score a 78% – the nation’s seventh-highest rate and far higher than West Virginia’s 47% – the nation’s fourth-worst showing. So while West Virginia’s gap seems to be much narrower, it’s because the state’s schools perform so much worse overall than Ohio’s do.

So, if there’s a silver lining to the achievement gap report it’s that 95% of our schools are doing a pretty good job. However, we must address the 5% that are struggling mightily by utilizing – and paying for – measures that research shows can help improve student achievement.

Here is how each type of school does in Ohio, with the White House figures reported on the top line. The numbers are percentages. In reading and math, it's measuring proficiency. In graduation, it's measuring the graduation rate.