Review Casts Doubts Over Black-White Achievement Gap

The California Charter School Association recently claimed that the state’s charter schools are narrowing the Black-White achievement gap. But a recent review by Arizona State University professor David Garcia, an expert on charter school research, found flaws in the report’s methods, and he explains that the gap is “largely unaffected by charter enrollment,” says the NEPC.

Conducted for the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado Boulder, Garcia’s review doubted the report’s claim that innovative practices that aren’t found in traditional public schools are at work in charter schools.

Garcia reviewed Chartering and Choice as an Achievement Gap-Closing Reform: The success of California charter schools in promoting African American Achievement, published by the California Charter Schools Association, for the NEPC’s Think Twice think tank review project.

In his review, Garcia refutes the claim that African American students attending California charter schools scored, on average, 19 points higher than the average for African Americans attending traditional schools on California’s Academic Performance Index (API).

Garcia observes that the data in the report itself show that “African Americans in California charter schools started out higher and actually lost ground relative to traditional public schools over time,” with traditional public schools outgaining charter schools by 6 points.

“[C]losing the achievement gap requires that African American students make more gains relative to White students – and by this definition, traditional public schools outperformed charter schools.”

Garcia damningly claims the report’s confusing and poorly supported claims are due in part to its “shotgun approach,” stating that it includes so many findings that it loses track of which schools are included in which findings.

But there is still a strong belief in the ability of charter schools’ to close the gap. Over the past decade, Florida, under Jeb Bush’s two terms, saw an emphasis on choice and accountability. And this is now paying dividends in a trend line of increasing student achievement that is causing other states to take notice, write Robert Holland and Don Soifer at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In 1998, Florida had one of the worst-performing public-school systems in the nation. Almost one-half of fourth-graders were functionally illiterate, but reform under Bush and the adoption of the Sunshine State Standards, to which testing and choice then were linked, saw that under the A+ program, all schools received grades for the performance of their students, and families in persistently failing schools gained the right to transfer to a better school.

The results were impressive — so much so that as many as 20 states have adopted at least a portion of the Jeb Bush reform agenda. Florida reduced its achievement gap between black and white fourth-graders faster than the national average between 2002 and 2011, writes Holland and Soifer.

“One of these is the growth of high-quality blended learning programs. Using technology and data to support teachers, blended classrooms combine online and in-person teaching to guide real-time adjustments to individual students’ strengths and weaknesses.”

While in Cleveland’s nonprofit Breakthrough Schools, minority students are outperforming white Ohio students at every grade level from 3 through 8, writes John Anderson at Suite 101.

Black students attending Breakthrough Public Charter Schools pulled off a 7% reverse achievement gap in average scores on the Ohio Achievement Tests over all Ohio white students in each grade tested, three through eight, and at every level, city, county, and state, in the 2009/10 school year, according to John Zitzner, President of Friends of Breakthrough, the network’s fundraising, marketing, and advocacy arm.