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WA CHARTERS, Monday, April 9, 2001

Dear Friends,

There was a great article in USA Today on Wednesday, March 28, at page 9-D.

The first paragraph reads:

"After a decade of mixed results, new studies show strong academic gains in test scores for children in charter schools, with some of the biggest improvements among the lowest-performing students."

A copy of the entire article is below.

Thanks for all you're doing to help bring the CHOICE of charter public schools to the children, families, and educators of Washington state. Hold the vision!

Jim & Fawn Spady, co-directors,
Education Excellence Coalition
4426 - 2nd Avenue NE
Seattle, WA 98105-6191
Jim office phone: 206/634-0589
Jim & Fawn home phone: 425/434-7440
Jim e-mail address:

Score goes up for charters Studies show academic gains amid growing pains
USA Today; March 28, 2001;

By Tamara Henry

After a decade of mixed results, new studies show strong academic gains in test scores for children in charter schools, with some of the biggest improvements among the lowest-performing students.

Unlike traditional public schools, charters are run by parents, teachers and other groups free of many regulations, in return for accountability on finances and student performance. Proponents boast about smaller class size, individual attention, enriched curriculum, and empowered teachers and parents. But many charter schools have not been operating long enough to demonstrate a long-term impact on student achievement.

"We know people like them. The thing we've never been too clear about is whether they produce stronger academic achievement. That's never been answered, so people are still chipping away at it as a research problem," says Chester Finn, an assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration and now head of the Washington, D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

Test scores improve

Three new studies document big gains:

* Advantage Schools, a private Boston-based firm that manages 15 inner-city charter schools in seven states and the District of Columbia, found a 9.1-point gain on two national standardized tests - - the Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests-Revised and the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition (SAT-9). The results were for 9,000 students in 1999-2000.

Students in kindergarten through second grade showed the biggest improvement, with reading scores climbing 19 percentile points, making their abilities equal to or better than 67% of the nation. The math percentile ranking climbed 3.6 points to 33.2%.

* The Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, commissioned by the Arizona Education Department, found that in both reading and math, two to three consecutive years in a charter school had a greater positive impact on test scores than did those years in a traditional public school. The analysis, directed by Goldwater fellow Lewis Solmon, was based on up to 60,000 SAT-9 records of students of various grade levels who attended charter or traditional public schools or both from 1997-99.

* Western Michigan University researchers found that Pennsylvania charter public schools posted gains on state assessments of more than 100 points in just two years, outgaining their host school districts by 86 points over the same period of time. The study examined 48 of the state's 65 charter schools.

Researchers say students from a sample of charter schools also gained on commercially available tests, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the SAT, which are administered more frequently.

"I think you're going to see (improved test scores) more and more" as the charter school movement matures, says Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, which favors both charters and vouchers.

However, Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, says union research shows that charter schools are not all that promising. He says "student achievement stinks" at Ohio charter schools, with most improvements in the single digits on the state's proficiency tests in grades 4, 6, 9 and 12.

"Their statewide average is on the level with the worst performing public schools in the state," says Mooney, who plans to release the study next week. "Why are we diverting millions from our public school districts and destabilizing them and reducing services for all the kids who are still in the public school?"

Charter schools in minority

The nation's first two charter schools opened in St. Paul in 1992. Arizona opened the doors to charters in 1994 and three years later started to collect the SAT-9 scores. Supporters see charters as a compromise with those who favor giving tax dollars to poor families for private school tuition. Both alternatives to traditional public schooling have moved to the foreground since school choice became an important element of President Bush's education plan.

Despite charter school popularity, studies show that only a small percentage of the nation's 45 million schoolchildren attend them. Pennsylvania education secretary Eugene Hickok says the Pennsylvania study found more than 90% of parents reported a high quality of instruction in their charter school. But the average waiting list for charter schools remains long, at 125 students; 38% of students choose to return to their traditional public school, enroll in a different charter school or attend another type of school.

All three studies found that, on average, students starting in charter schools have lower academic scores initially than traditional public school students. For example, Advantage, which has been operating five years, says its students began 20% to 30% below the national average.

Goldwater's Solmon says charter school students in his sample started with lower average test scores in math and reading, were more likely to be classified as special education, were less likely to be gifted, and were more likely to be white and to speak English.

Pennsylvania's charter schools enroll nearly equal proportions of male and female students; nearly 80% are non-white, compared with 57% in their host districts and 52% in the charter schools nationally.

Advantage officials attribute their success to a variety of things, including a back-to-basics curriculum called Direct Instruction, and smaller classes.

"We definitely spend more time 'on task,' " says Nancy Hibbitts- Manley, principal of K-6 Houston Advantage Charter School, which has 688 students. "The time we spend on reading is double the time spent usually in a traditional public school system. Kindergarten students follow the same format. We do not have half-day kindergarten."

Advantage school days are 30 to 45 minutes longer than traditional school days. The year has 200 days, as opposed to the 180 days typical of most districts.

Advantage manages inner-city charter schools in Arizona, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas and Washington, D.C.

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