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Study Finds Achievement Mixed at Charters Run by Networks

From guest blogger Nirvi Shah:

A new national study on the effectiveness of the networks that operate charter schools finds that their students' test scores in math, science, and social studies improve after they have spent a year or two at the school, but not by much.

Overall, the report out today finds that middle school student achievement varies widely at schools run by charter-management organizations, which are the groups that establish and operate multiple charter schools. Most networks seem to produce a positive effect on student achievement, compared with results for students in district-run schools in the same area that are not run by CMOs. Some actually have a negative effect. The overall impact, however, tends not to be statistically significant, according to the report by from Mathematica and the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

The study involved 40 CMOs with 292 schools in 14 states, all of which were nonprofits that controlled at least four schools and had at least four schools open in the fall of 2007. It looked at how quickly these organizations grew, who the schools served, the resources they used, what influenced their growth, and their effects' on student outcomes, among other issues. The report does not, however, disclose the names of the networks involved in they study.

Nationwide, there are about 130 CMOs serving about 250,000 students. They account for the operation of about one in five of the 5,000 charter schools across the country.

While many CMOs are known for their approaches to education, the study found some of these strategies have no measurable effect on student achievement, including performance-based pay for teachers, frequent formative assessments, and a defined educational approach that is consistent through all materials and curricula.

Other approaches do have an effect on how students do, however, include intensive coaching of teachers—including frequent reviews of lesson plans— and comprehensive behavior policies that include written agreements between schools and students or their parents and specific sanctions or rewards for student behavior.

The study also found that CMOs serve a disproportionately large number of black, Hispanic, and low-income students but fewer students with disabilities. The latter issue has been one that has cropped up in a number of places, including in Los Angeles.

The study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation with project management assistance from the NewSchools Venture Fund, which focuses on changing public education for low-income children. (Gates also provides operating support for Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit that runs Education Week and edweek.org.)

Early next year, Mathematica and the Center for Reinventing Public Education will report the results of a similar study about high school student achievement at CMO-run schools.

Look for more details about the study in a story (and a link to the complete report) on edweek.org tomorrow.

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