National CREDO Study Robs Anti-Charter Crowd of Big Bogus Talking Point

Summertime is catch-up time. Recently, I missed the chance to comment on the new CREDO national charter school study. The report’s predecessor, released four years ago, caught on in the national press as a sign that charters were faring badly. That report generated serious criticisms from researchers about the methods used to draw its conclusions. This time, however, the news is better, though not outstanding:

Across the charter schools in the 26 states studied, 25 percent have significantly stronger learning gains in reading than their traditional school counterparts,
while 56 percent showed no significant difference and 19 percent of charter schools have significantly weaker learning gains. In mathematics, 29 percent of charter schools showed student learning gains that were significantly stronger than their traditional public school peers’, while 40 percent were not significantly different and 31 percent were significantly weaker.

So, looking at a bigger sample, CREDO finds overall small charter advantages in reading and a wash in math. Many of the most disadvantaged — “[s]tudents in poverty, black students, and those who are English language learners” — reap the greatest benefits. Despite the better news, the pro-charter Center for Education Reform showed its integrity by publicizing very similar concerns about CREDO’s matching method that they did four years ago. Not that they especially need this particular study to confirm the positive outcomes generated by public charter schools and strong state policies that support them.

Jay Greene guest blogger Colin Hitt argued that the release of findings “a more significant political development than as an advance of scientific understanding.” Noting the strong overall record of charters in the gold-standard research, and the intervening positive CREDO charter studies that were largely overlooked (though not by everyone), he correctly advised that we should look mainly at how the media reports the news.

Well, there have been a few slanted headlines like “Majority of U.S. charter schools perform equal or worse than traditional public schools”, but they are in the minority. On the other hand, more thoughtful pieces like the work of the Christian Science Monitor‘s Amanda Paulson have emerged. That piece cites a couple prominent national charter leaders, who validate the CREDO findings about the important effect of closing underperforming schools.

Interestingly, the report notes that Colorado is one of the states that followed an effective school closure strategy and also demonstrated significant improvements in reading and math from four years earlier. Our state’s upward shift for charters was “most noticeable” in reading results, CREDO says. Its big findings mesh well with the state’s evaluation of Colorado charters and a national examination of KIPP performance.

Whatever amount of credence is merited by this national study, Hitt is right: It does rob a big talking point away from opponents of reform. Twenty years and counting for Colorado, and further confirmation of the value of continuing down the road of innovation.