A new report from Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that students in Indiana charter schools outperformed their traditional public school peers in both math and reading. The study also found that students in charter schools in Indianapolis had even greater gains than the overall charter school population in the state.
The study tracked 15,297 charter school students at 64 schools from grades 3-8. On average, students in charter schools ended the year having made the equivalent of 1.5 more months of learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school counterparts did. Students in charter schools in Indianapolis ended the year ahead of their traditional public school counterparts by two months in reading and three months in math.
The study paired up charter school students with a control group of traditional public schools students by matching demographic and performance data (gender, race/ethnicity, special education status, English language proficiency, free-or-reduced lunch participation, grade level, and prior test scores on state achievement tests) to track growth.
The research center published similar findings last month focused on charter schools' students in New Jersey. The analysis found that charter school students in that state gained an average of three additional months of learning per year in math and two extra months of learning in reading compared to their traditional public school counterparts. Since 2009, CREDO has published a number of reports analyzing charter school performance in 20 states and Washington D.C.
The Indiana report breaks down the findings across many variables including school level, school location, growth period, grade level, race, and charter management organization affiliation, among others. It found that black students, who constitute a higher portion of the charter school population (58 percent) than they do the traditional public school school population (11 percent), performed worse than their white student counterparts in both traditional public schools and charter schools. However, black students in charter schools performed better in both reading and math than black students in traditional public schools, overall.
Special education students, who are slightly underrepresented in Indiana's charter schools (11 percent compared to 15 percent in the traditional public school population) performed worse than non-special education students in both traditional public schools as well as charter schools in the state. There was no statistically significant difference in reading or math between special education students in traditional public vs. charter schools in the state.
In each year of the six-year study, charter school students outperformed their traditional public school counterparts during that year except for the latest year for which statistics are available, 2011. In that year, students performed just as well as their public school peers in reading and slightly worse in math.
The report's researchers attribute this dip in achievement to charter schools that opened in 2008-09 and later, the bulk of which were authorized by Ball State University, according to the report. In fact, the charters authorized by Ball State University lagged behind those authorized by the Indianapolis Mayor's Office and the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation.