Last school year was a record-breaker with more than 280,000 Florida students attending public charter schools. While this increase is a cause for celebration, there’s another data point we shouldn’t overlook: Florida’s public charter students are outperforming their peers in traditional public schools in almost all categories and often by wide margins.
This performance is based on both national and state assessments, encompasses students in all demographic groups, and takes place in all tested subjects. The data comes from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” and performance on Florida’s state assessments.
Florida Public Charter Students Making Impressive National Gains
NAEP exams are rigorous, highly regarded assessments given to representative samples of students in all states every two years.
The most widely watched results are those from fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math. Looking at the 2015 results, the last available, students in Florida public charter schools scored higher than their peers in traditional schools—as well as the national average of all students—in both grades and in both subjects.
NAEP results also show public charter schools produced stronger academic gains in both subjects when looking at fourth-grade scores in 2011 and comparing them to eighth-grade scores in 2015. These gains make Florida charters one of the fastest improving sectors, now outperforming the national average and Florida districts on all four tests. (You can find a more detailed analysis of this data in our latest report: Florida Charter School Growth and Performance).
These are strong indicators of charter school quality. But let’s cast our data net even wider by looking at scores on state tests.
Florida Public Charters Outperform Districts on State Tests
The Florida Department of Education produced a comprehensive analysis in May, comparing the performance of public charter students with those in traditional public schools in the 2015-16 school year. The report included a breakdown of students into subgroups (white, Hispanic, African-American, low-income, English-language learners and students with disabilities) and analyzed test results in English language arts, math, science and social science.
The data revealed:
- In 65 out of 77 comparisons of student achievement, Florida public charter school students had higher rates of grade-level performance.
- Academic achievement gaps among student subgroups in Florida public charter schools were smaller in 20 of 22 comparisons.
- The percentage of students making learning gains was higher for charters in 82 of 96 comparisons.
Traditional public schools did have a higher percentage of students qualifying for the free and reduced-price lunch program—an indicator of poverty: 61.5 percent to 49 percent. But in charters, these students outperformed their peers in traditional public schools on nearly every test, subject and grade level—both in performance and learning gains.
The Florida Results Are Not an Anomaly
The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University has conducted national studies on urban charter school academic outcomes. Its most recent results showed that the longer students remained in public charter schools, the higher the learning gains they achieved when compared to their peers in traditional public schools.
For example, a student who spent four years in an urban charter school gained the equivalent of an additional 108 days of instruction in reading and 72 days in math.
According to CREDO, this 2015 study “found positive results for nearly all student subgroups and especially strong for students who are minority and in poverty.”
A recent analysis of the top public charter school networks showed low-income students completing college at a rate three to five times greater than the national average.
Contrary to the misinformation spread by naysayers, the data on public charter schools, particularly in Florida, is overwhelmingly positive.
In addition to these positive outcomes for students, it is important to remember that charter schools are public schools. They must take all applicants or hold a lottery when there aren’t enough seats. They must teach state standards and administer the same assessments given to students in traditional public schools.
Yet, no child is assigned to a public charter school. Every single child attending one of Florida’s public charter schools does so by choice. Their parents made a conscious decision to place their child in that school because they believed it was the best educational setting for their child.
And they can change their mind and make a different choice next year if the school isn’t working for their child.
Make no mistake, charters are not a miracle cure or the only path to a quality education. And Florida has an abundance of excellent traditional public schools as well as a diversity of school and educational choice options.
The point is that expanding educational options gives parents the ability choose what works best for their children.
About the author
Patricia Levesque @levesquepat
Patricia is the Chief Executive Officer for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She served as Governor Jeb Bush’s deputy chief of staff for education, enterprise solutions for government, minority procurement, and business and professional regulation. Previously, Patricia served six years in the Florida Legislature in the Speakers Office and as staff director over education policy. Contact Patricia at PatriciaLevesque@excelined.org.