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Study Finds Charters Outpace Districts, Lag Behind State Performance

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A new report released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Public Impact found that in an analysis of charter school performance in five different cities across the U.S., the charters modestly outperformed their district counterparts but lagged behind statewide performance averages of regular public schools.

The study analyzed reading and math performance data from standardized state tests in grades 3-8 during the 2010-11 school year. It looked at charter school performance in Albany, N.Y.; Chicago; Cleveland, Ohio; Denver, Colo.; and Indianapolis, Ind. The cities were chosen because of their high percentage of charter schools, which served between 10 percent and 30 percent of the student population in those communities.

Albany's charter schools led the pack in terms of student achievement, but even that city's overall charter school performance fell below the average level of regular schools in New York state. The analysis revealed great variation in the quality of individual charters in all five cities studied.

The report suggests that because of the wide range of performance of charter schools in all five cities studied, lawmakers should implement policies that would close the bottom 10 percent of low-performing charters in each city while reinvesting those schools' allotted marketshare in the top 10 percent of high-performing charters in order for them to extend their strategies to a wider group of students. Doing so could "result in charter schools vastly outperforming the district schools in five years," the report found.

The report did not control for differences in student characteristics between the district schools and charter schools.

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