Let’s Not Forget Colorado’s Successful Charter Schools

Lots of great things have been happening in school choice lately. All over the nation, research is emerging about the success of charter schools. I’ve highlighted some of these studies, specifically from New York and Florida, but it’s been awhile since we talked about charter schools in Colorado. So today, why don’t we?

The newest comprehensive research done by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), the 2016 State of Charter Schools Triennial Report, displays the success charter schools in Colorado have had in improving education for the general student population and disadvantaged groups.

Contrary to the opponents of school choice who claim that charter schools are the religious right’s 21st century attempt at segregation, CDE determined that public charter schools in Colorado actually serve a greater percentage of minority students than the state average for non-charters. 46.9% of charter school students are minorities, while the state average in 45.9%.

Though public charter schools in Colorado serve slightly fewer students that qualify for free or reduced lunch programs (FRPL), those that do attend charter schools show greater academic proficiency. On the 2014 state Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, charter school students that qualified for free or reduced lunch programs predominantly outperformed their traditional public school peers. For reading, “across all grade levels the percentage of [FRLP] students meeting or exceeding grade level benchmark expectations was greater for charter schools than non-charter schools,” and for math “across all but fifth-grade the percentage of [FRLP] students meeting or exceeding grade-level benchmark expectations was greater for charter schools than non-charter schools.”

The number of students eligible for free and reduced lunch programs in charter schools has more than doubled since 2001, likely because of the exceptional results charter schools have produced. As more research surfaces that charter schools “generally outperform state non-charter schools on state performance measures, overall and with educationally disadvantaged groups,” their demand will continue to grow.

While students at charter schools almost exclusively outperformed students in traditional public schools, they fell short in one area.

CDE’s study notes that charter schools are behind traditional public schools in postsecondary and workforce readiness performance. To explain this gap, CDE points largely to the fact that a “disproportionally greater percentage of charter schools fall into the online and AEC [Alternative Educational Center] categories than do non-charter schools.”

So why would having a lesser percentage of students in AEC schools push the statistics to favor traditional public schools? Well, on average an AEC school contains a considerably greater amount of special education students, English language learning student, and students that qualify for the FRLP. There are about 8 times more charter school students in AEC’s than traditional public school students.

I don’t see a problem with the statistic being skewed this way–after all, the point of many charter schools is to provide educational options to traditionally disadvantaged groups.

Take the New America School for example. New America is an AEC that serves students aged 14-21, and is focused on helping provide “academically underserved students the educational tools to support and maximize their potential.” This includes English language learning students, student-parents, and new immigrants. New America concentrates on making sure these groups of students get an adequate educational foundation, rather than four-year graduation rates and progressing its students into pretentious colleges.

Opponents of school choice claim that charter schools have misrepresented student populations–that they have filtered out students and segregated the lower classes, all in an attempt to put the numbers in their favor. As CDE’s report exemplifies, this is simply not the case. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.