Florida Charter Schools Outperform Public Schools, Data Shows

According to data collected by the Florida Department of Education, charter schools in the state are outperforming their traditional public school peers. The report – titled Student Achievement in Florida’s Charter Schools: A Comparisons of the Performance of Charter School Students with Traditional Public School Students — found that of the 63 metrics measured by state exams, charter students outdid their public school classmates on 55.

Moreover, charter schools have managed to narrow both racial and income gap between their students, something that the state’s education system has been struggling with. The report was put together based on scores from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests and Algebra End-of-Course Exams from the 2011-2012 academic year.

Tiffany Cowie, a public information officer for DOE, said the report isn’t a criticism of traditional public schools. Charter schools are funded through DOE and are held to the same standards as traditional public schools, despite being independently operated, Cowie said.

Cowie expressed pride at the achievement of the charters, saying that both kinds of schools are public schools as considered by the state. However, he was at a loss to explain what reason there could be for such gap in performance between charters and traditional public schools. Cowie said that contrary to the assertion that charters get to cherry-pick their students, the reality is that charters and traditional schools pull their student bodies from identical student pools.

Over the period covered by the exam, 518 charter schools had been operating in the state sponsored by 43 school districts and two state universities. More than 180,000 students in grades K-12 are now enrolled in charter schools comprising more than 7% of total students in the state.

The learning gains section of the report includes 96 comparisons. The report compares the percentage of students in charter schools making learning gains against the percentage of students in traditional public schools making learning gains, by subject, grade level, and subgroup. The percentage of students making learning gains was higher in charter schools in 83 of the 96 comparisons. The percentage of students making learning gains was higher in traditional public schools in 6 of the 96 comparisons. There was no difference in the percentage of students making learning gains in 7 of the 96 comparisons.

According to the report, the findings are definitive in showing that charter schools present a viable educational alternative for families who felt that they have been failed by their local public schools. The Florida study isn’t the first of the kind to find performance gains in charters. A recent report by the Center for Research of Education Outcomes in Stanford University published similar findings on Massachusetts charter schools earlier this month.

The CREDO study showed that students in MA charters gain, on average, 1.5 to 2.5 months of additional learning over their public school peers, with the results being especially marked in Boston schools. Massachusetts, where 13% of students are enrolled in charter schools, is along with Florida considered a pioneer in both opening the doors to school choice and making it a success for its students.  

The Massachusetts study is especially notable because included data from over 25,000 students who were followed for over 5 years.

The researchers broke apart Boston numbers because the findings there were impressive even on the scale of other charters in the state. While an average charter school student gained about 2 months of learning in math and reading over the course of a year, an average Boston charter school student gained an additional year of schooling over the same period of time.