The Texas Business and Education Council commissioned a major review of high-performing charter schools by Dr. Ed Fuller.
The question addressed by Fuller is whether the charters are enrolling the same kinds of students who enroll in nearby public schools.
The final conclusions included this summary:
This study is a preliminary examination of high-profile/high-performing charter management organizations in Texas. Specifically, the study examined the characteristics of students entering the schools, retention/attrition rates; and,the impact of attrition/retention rates on the distribution of students.
Contrary to the profile often portrayed in the media, by some policymakers, and by some charter school proponents (including some charter CEOs), the high-profile/high-enrollment CMOs in Texas enrolled groups of students that would arguably be easier to teach and would be more likely to exhibit high levels of achievement and greater growth on state achievement tests. Indeed, the above analyses showed that, relative to comparison schools, CMOs had:
- Entering students with greater prior TAKS scores in both mathematics and reading;
- Entering economically disadvantaged students with substantially greater prior TAKS scores in both mathematics and reading;
- Lower percentages of incoming students designated as ELL;
- Lower percentages of incoming students identified as special needs; and,
- Only slightly greater percentages of incoming students identified as economically disadvantaged.
In other words, rather than serving more disadvantaged students, the findings of this study suggest that the high-profile/high-enrollment CMOs actually served a more advantaged clientele relative to comparison schools—especially as compared to schools in the same zip code as the CMO schools. This is often referred to as the “skimming” of more advantaged students from other schools. While CMOs may not intentionally skim, the skimming of students may simply be an artifact of the policies and procedures surrounding entrance into these CMOs.
Thus, the comparisons that have been made between these CMOs and traditional public schools—especially traditional public schools in the same neighborhoods as the CMO schools—have been “apples-to-oranges” comparisons rather than “apples-to-apples” comparisons. The public and policymakers need to look past the percentages of economically disadvantaged students and disabuse themselves of the notion that enrolling a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students is the same as having a large percentage of lower-performing students. In fact, despite a large majority of students entering the CMOs identified as economically disadvantaged, students at the selected CMOs tended to have average or above average TAKS achievement and certainly greater achievement levels than comparison schools.