Charter schools: Faster progress, less money

California charter schools get “more bang for the buck,” and may be improving at a faster pace than district-run schools, according to a new USC report. The LA Times reports:

“Charter schools are better able to increase student performance in a shorter period of time than non-charter public schools,” said its principal author, Priscilla Wohlstetter, a professor of education policy and director of the Center on Educational Governance at USC. “We’re talking about academic momentum.”

Charter schools spent 75 percent of revenues in the classroom versus 65 percent for district-run schools.

However, charter students who speak English as a second language achieved English proficiency at a slower rate. Caprice Young of the California Charter Schools Association speculated ithe numbers might be influenced by the “relatively large number of dual-language charter schools, where English learners continue being taught for half the day in their native language.”

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  1. So would we if we got to choose our students and drop our special ed programs.

    Please. Charters do not follow the same rules. When are people going to figure it out.

  2. Of course, charters don’t follow the same rules. The whole idea is to judge by results rather than compliance with rules.

    However, charter schools can’t choose their students nor can they exclude special ed students. Most are small schools that mainstream special ed students rather than offering a “special day class.” Typically, charters contract with the local district to provide special ed services.

    Nationally, charter school students are more likely to be black, about as likely (or more) to be poor and less likely to have a special ed label than public school students as a whole. Some new stats are coming out next week, I think, that should update this.

  3. No, they can make policy that expels students if they don’t achieve a certain grade level, and most school districts end up responsible for Special Ed students anyway, especially if they have IEPs.

    Sounds like choosing and getting the best of the Special Ed, especially with funding.

    Speaking of which, the ADA follows the student to the charter school, but does not follow the student back to the public school if they return.

    Fix the schools you have, they serve everyone.

  4. I found this interesting quote in the article:

    Rather than just looking at the results of standardized tests, the study attempted to gauge “academic momentum,” to see if schools are getting better over time, and “school productivity,” to see how their academic achievement relates to the amount of money they spend.

    In other words, we don’t have the proof in test scores, which is the sole measure public schools are judged by, so we made up the concepts of “school productivity” and “academic momentum”

  5. Coach, you’re wrong on the funding. District-run public schools get the ADA funding for all their students regardless of where they’ve been enrolled previously. If the district provides special ed services to special ed students enrolled in a charter or private school, the district gets paid for the services.

    In San Jose, students who repeatedly fail a grade are transferred to “opportunity schools,” which report test scores separately, or to alternative programs.

    “Academic momentum” refers to the rate at which students improve test scores.

  6. In other words, we don’t have the proof in test scores, which is the sole measure public schools are judged by, so we made up the concepts of “school productivity” and “academic momentum”

    Oh look, a new “testing” enthusiast.

    So Mike, when did you reverse your view of meaningful accountability testing, AKA NCLB? I didn’t get the press release.

    Fix the schools you have, they serve everyone.

    No, they don’t and before you try to fix something that’s broken – that they are broken is your admission, not mine – you first ought to determine if it’s worth it.

    If you look at the posting right above this one about the principal who didn’t think more money was going to solve his school’s problems you start to get an idea of what is broken.

    You can no more get rid of bureaucratic interference from the district administration then you can “get the politics out of public schools”. The district administration will continue to “administer” and politics will continue to be part of the running of any school district.

    Get used it because as long as there are administrators higher up in the hierarchy they will continue to administer and they’ll have all sorts of reasons why principals and teachers aren’t to be trusted to make any decisions. If you want to change that situation you won’t do it by finding a better class of administrator, you’ll do it by creating an organization in which they do not exist.

  7. wayne martin says:

    Here is a link to the paper–

    Charter School Indicators/2007:

  8. Allen,

    I’m merely applying the same standards to the charters, test scores, that the public schools are being held to.

    Following Wayne Martin’s link to the “study” I found this:

    Although California charter schools may rank lower on the API and AYP, their rates of improvement
    – Academic Momentum Index – are more rapid than non-charter public schools in California.

    API and AYP are the indicators used by the state of California. Since the charters couldn’t measure up the “authors” invented the Academic Momentum Index to try to make the charters look good.

  9. Nationally, charter school students are more likely to be black, about as likely (or more) to be poor and less likely to have a special ed label than public school students as a whole.

    Please do update this claim when new data becomes available, because a study I found indicates this not to be true.

    The Charter School Dust-Up from the Economic Policy Institute indicates:

    Regular public schools have a greater share of low-income black, white, and Hispanic students than charter schools. . . .About 76% of black students in regular public schools are low-income, while only 68% of black students in charter schools are low-income. . .Hispanic students in charter schools are no more disadvantaged than Hispanic students in regular public schools. . .In California charter schools, 38% of 6th-8th graders are socioeconomically disadvantaged; for all state schools, that figure is 51%…

  10. I’m merely applying the same standards to the charters, test scores, that the public schools are being held to.

    Right. So you’re on board for closing rotten district schools then? If you want to “merely” apply the same standards to each.

    But let’s take a look at the talking points that you quote from:

    * In Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas, test scores from charter schools older than three years are still no higher than in public schools.
    *In an analysis of fourth grade test scores in all 13 states, charter school students have the same or lower scores than other public school students in nearly every demographic category. The scores of low-income black students are lower in charter schools in both math and reading.

    Which looks very much like the authors, at least of the talking points, are claiming that charter schools produce no better results then district schools. But if we go down a little way on the talking points we come to this:

    Charters’ freedom from regulation allows them to hire less qualified teachers. In communities sampled by the federal government’s Schools and Staffing Survey, only 72% of charter teachers were certified, compared to 93% of regular public teachers.

    So we’ve got the same results, according to the authors, but with fewer credentialed teachers. Kind of makes you wonder how necessary certification is, hey? Alternatively, if these same charters had had 93% certificated teachers would they have done significantly better then their district counterparts?

    Either way you cut it, charters come out ahead which certainly makes sense. After all, every kid in a charter is fleeing a lousy district school. If it turns out the charter is worse, or no better, then the district schools the parents get to exercise choice until the charter disappears.

  11. Charters very seldom get closed, usually fiscal irresponbility, not incompetence. Since charters are NOT serving larger hard to education populations (low-SES, special ed., ESL) they should be getting better scores than the public school.

    Hardly getting more bang for the bug.

  12. Wow, I shouldn’t try to type when my daughter is talking to me 🙂

  13. The National Center for Education Statistics’ report for 2005 says charter students are more likely to be black (27.3 percent vs. 16.9 percent) or Hispanic (20.8 vs. 14.9) than students at district-run public schools. More charter schools are majority poor (42 vs. 35 percent) as judged by free lunch; this may underestimate the poverty rate since some charters don’t participate in the free-lunch program. Charters are twice as likely to be more than 75 percent minority.

    In some states, charters are granted only to schools designed to serve low-income and other high-need students.

  14. Charters very seldom get closed, usually fiscal irresponsibility, not incompetence.

    That’s nice. When’s the last time a district school was closed for any reason?

    Remember, you’re the guy who’s “merely applying the same standards to the charters, test scores, that the public schools are being held to.”

    Feel free to point out the factors that result in such superior performance that there’s just no need to shut down a district school. Ever.

  15. wayne martin says:

    District Schools sometimes are “reconstiuted”, which is not the same as a “shutdown”, but does have the same effect–
    School Reconstitution:

    h t t p://

    Reconstitution – The Clint Eastwood Solution for Low-Performing Schools
    by David Bacon

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA (10/22/97) — After his school had been reconstituted, and he was looking for a job elsewhere in the San Francisco Unified School District, Shelby Watkins felt that administrators in other schools looked at him as tainted by the process. “They saw us as damaged goods from a damaged school,” he remembers. “Their attitude was, ‘let me look you over.’ And even though they were supposed to tell us right away whether or not they were giving us a class, they’d often make us wait through three round of interviews before we’d hear anything. I heard that some even hid their open positions so that we couldn’t get them.”

    h t t p://

    Failing schools in the city of Boston are closed. In other districts, they are reconstituted. And schools here in Guilford County, such as Wiley and Washington Elementary and Ferndale Middle (among others) are in danger of being reconstituted. That means major house cleaning. The entire staff is cleared out. Transfers can be expected. Some firings. The school reopens with a new staff, new attitude and hopefully, a willingness to try it again.

  16. Wayne, are the closures/reconstitutions you’ve found the rule or the exception? I’m strongly inclined to believe it is the latter on the basis of my own experience.

    When a grotesque parody of a school continues to operate at a criminally low level of performance for decades, that suggests that the problem of closing poorly performing schools isn’t transient. When you read about similar situations in many other big-city school districts it’s clear the problem isn’t local either.

    Since I’m not conspiracy-minded, a systemic shortcoming is the only explanation for a wide spread, generalized failure to deal with incompetence in the public education system.

  17. wayne martin says:

    > are the closures/reconstitutions you’ve
    > found the rule or the exception?

    Of course it’s the exception. NCLB has the power to force reconstitution, but being on PI (Program Improvement) status for five years is required to initiate such an action. I am unaware of any schools which have been closed/reconstituted by NCLB, but doubtless some will be under the cross-hairs one of these days.

    h t p://

    Dramatic rise in California schools falling behind on ‘No Child’ goals
    Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Wednesday, February 28, 2007

    The architects of the federal No Child Left Behind Act hoped that showering schools with expert advice and telling them how to spend them their money would make them succeed.

    But a new study released today shows that only 10 out of hundreds of low-scoring California schools facing severe consequences under No Child Left Behind have improved enough to get off of a state watch list this year — including Sobrante Park Elementary in Oakland.

    Here in California, who school districts are taken over by the State, from time-to-time. Currently the City of Oakland is under state control, as was the City of Martinez (which is located near Oakland).

    The following article snippet speaks to nationwide school takeovers:
    h t t p://

    School takeovers are a rising phenomenon

    In 1989, New Jersey became the first state to take full operational control of a local school district. As noted in a 2002 report for the National Association of State Boards of Education, a rising number of states and cities are permitting takeovers of school districts, either by a state authority or by a mayor. By 2002, some 24 states permitted state takeovers of local school districts, enabling state officials to intervene in cases of “academic bankruptcy” or low-performing schools.

    School district takeovers have occurred in 18 states and in the District of Columbia. This growing trend has led researchers and policy-makers to ask the question: “Do school district takeovers work?” The answer is, “Sometimes.” And “sometimes” for a short term only, for long-term success is uncommon.

    The report further noted that in general, research on the effectiveness of state takeovers lags behind the pace of policy and practice and that studies suggest that it is easier to improve finances and management practices than it is to influence student achievement.

    This was clearly revealed by the experience of the East St. Louis School District takeover. After the state of Illinois took over this poor-performing district, it turned a $2.6 million budget shortfall into a $5.9 million surplus – but the district continued to rank among the bottom 10 of the state’s 900 school districts in academic performance.

    Another example of continuing failure under new management is the 44,000-student Jersey City School District, the first troubled school district in the nation to be taken over by the state government. After six years there was an improvement in test scores, but after a decade they remained well below the state average.

    In the 29,000-student Compton California School District – taken over by the state in 1993 after a severe budget shortfall – five different state administrators were appointed to the district in six years. By 1999 a team of outside reviewers awarded the district a grade ‘D’ for progress, and observed that the system had a long way to go before it could resume independent operations.

    The NASBE report, however, illustrates the fact that the number of takeovers has been increasing. Between 1988 and 1994, there were 12 takeovers, rising to 28 between 1995 and 2000, with a peak of takeovers occurring from 1995 to 1997 – including the highly publicised takeovers in Chicago (1995), Cleveland (1997) and Baltimore (1997).

    In addition, the scope of such takeovers has broadened over time. Prior to the 1995-1997 peak periods, most of them were for financial and/or management reasons, while less than a third were comprehensive takeovers that included academic performance. But in the 1997-2000 period, the percentage of comprehensive takeovers rose to become the majority (at almost 70%), with the percentage of takeovers solely for financial and/or management reasons dropping to less than a quarter.

    Furthermore, when a takeover occurs, its duration is linked to its scope. Most (10 out of 14) of completed takeovers (where local control has been re-established) were takeovers that did not involve academic reform. Only four of the 23 takeovers involving academic performance were completed. The rest remained in progress, and could remain so for many years.

    Those comprehensive takeovers that include financial, managerial, and academic components tend to last the longest. Only one such comprehensive takeover has been completed – that of Logan County, West Virginia, which is the only one to show solid test score gains since the new trend started with the New Jersey takeover of 1989.

    So all in all, the results indicate that there is no magic carpet ride to the goal of productive, successful schools that have been made the subject of takeovers by either the state or city mayors.

    Clearly reconstituting schools is a technique that works. Given the belief of entitlement on the part of so many educators, who have given so much money to state legislators to give them control of the country’s schools, you might want to become conspiracy minded.

  18. America has woken up to the failures of public education.

    And people are starting to see it for what it is…..a bloated, poorly managed beauracracy of overpaid, underachieving liberal arts majors with ZERO accountability.

    Teachers unions….your days are numbered. You have bankrupted our communities and sacrificed meaningful development to support your overpaid, easy jobs.

    It used to be that a teacher was paid low because of the great benefits and 6 hour days for 9 months a year.

    Then they complaign that they are not paid enough. Instead of getting a better paying job, they hold communities hostage, threatening the education of their children.

    The holding of children up as human shields is deplorable and not dissimilar to the oil for food program under Saddam Hussein. And the money doesn’t go to the kids like they would like to claim.

    Explain to me why state of Utah at $6000/student has better performance than NY at $18000 per. Money is obviously not the problem.