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Florida Charter Schools: We’re going to CeleNAEP and Have a Good Time!

• Dr. Matthew Ladner

NAEP released 2015 data recently. One can only describe the overall news, both nationally and in Florida, as disappointing. Nevertheless the data did contain bright spots, including in the Florida charter schools category.

Academic performance data reflects gaps in student performance by special program (English language learners, special education) and by family income. Therefore, one way to gauge the effectiveness of one school system compared to others is to take variations in family income and education program into account. Some states are far wealthier than others, for instance. It’s important to know which states are doing a better—or worse—job serving their low-income students, regardless of the overall budget of the state.

In writing the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Report Card on American Education over the last few years, I’ve focused comparisons between states on the academic performance of general education students whose family incomes qualify them for a free or reducedprice lunch under federal guidelines. This gets us an apples-to-apples comparison rather than simply looking at state average scale scores.

Florida had nearly 251,000 charter school students in 2014-15. Figure 1 presents statewide averages for general education low-income students on eighth-grade NAEP reading, and the same figure for Florida charter school students.

NAEP 2015 eighth-grade reading scores for general education free and reduced lunch eligible students

A few notes: even if you don’t control for special program status and family income, Florida charter school students still score near the top of statewide averages. Moreover, even if you include every other state’s charter school sector as separate states in a general education, low-income analysis, Florida charter school students still come out on top. Therefore, Florida charter school students and teachers, this one is dedicated to you:

But as Florida charter educators and students celeNAEP good times, let’s also focus on what the rest of Florida—as well as school systems across the nation—can learn from the Florida charter sector’s success overall and with low-income students in particular. In my view, Florida’s charters succeed because they have greater flexibility to pick the curriculum, special programs and facilities that meet theirquote for CeleNAEP students’ unique needs.

Giving parents the freedom to match the focus and strength of schools with the individual interests and needs of their child represents the “secret sauce” of parental choice programs. We are engaged in an exploration of novel practices to find ways to show parents greater dignity and autonomy within an updated framework of public education. Great test scores aren’t an indication of these schools being “better” per se but rather that they were a great fit for many of the students whose parents selected these schools to educate their child.

How great of a fit? If I felt like rubbing it in, I would look up how much they spend per pupil in places like Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine, and compare it to spending per pupil in Florida charter schools. Luckily I am just too busy grooving to my Kool and Gang jam to bother with it, and I think you get the point.

About the author

Dr. Matthew Ladner @MatthewLadner

Dr. Matthew Ladner is the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He previously served as Vice President of Research and Goldwater Institute. Prior to joining Goldwater, Dr. Ladner was director of state projects at the Alliance for School Choice. Dr. Ladner has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform. Most recently, Dr. Ladner authored the groundbreaking, original research Turn and Face the Strain: Age Demographic Change and the Near Future of American Education, outlining the future funding crisis facing America’s K-12 public education funding. He also coauthors the American Legislative Exchange Council's annual Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform. Dr. Ladner has testified before Congress, the United States Commission of Civil Rights and numerous state legislative committees. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received both a Masters and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. Dr. Ladner is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Educational Choice. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.