At its Tuesday meeting, the State Board of Education will review a report it requested on charter public school performance. The board's report is less comprehensive and uses a different methodology than a recent Stanford University study, but finds similar results.

In short, charter public school students are learning more than conventional public school students, but enter school at a greater educational disadvantage.

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The board report looks at student performance within schools authorized by the 11 largest charter school authorizers in the state and compares the performance of those schools to statewide average school performance. 

The biggest difference between the Stanford study and the board report is that the Stanford study measured individual student growth by comparing charter public students to similar students in public schools based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, prior test scores and other factors.

The board report heavily focuses on proficiency, rarely taking into account whether students entered school at an educational disadvantage. The report does compare students by race and socioeconomic status, but not at nearly the level of detail in the Stanford study.

Just two tables in the board report discuss student academic growth, and those tables show that more charter school students are "improving." The report found that 36 percent of charter public school students are improving in math and 40 percent in reading, compared to 33 percent in math and 37 percent in reading for conventional public school students.

Though 71 Michigan superintendents recently claimed that charter schools will "[create] a permanent underclass in our inner cities," the fact is that charter schools are serving more low-income and racial minority students than conventional public schools. Indeed, one of the most heartening findings from the Stanford University study was that low-income minority students in the Detroit area are doing especially well in charter public schools.

By not adjusting for the impact that poverty has on average standardized test scores, the board of education's study highlights results that penalize charter public schools for serving a large proportion of disadvantaged students. The report itself notes that 67 percent of students in Michigan charter public schools that are run by large authorizers are economically disadvantaged, compared to 47 percent statewide. 

Student academic growth is one of the best ways to compare schools. Students enter school at varying levels of educational achievement, due to factors outside of a school's control. In order to take into account this reality and to accurately measure the quality of a school, the state should focus more on student academic growth.

This will become extraordinarily important if the state begins taking over schools or banning certain authorizers from chartering new ones if their current ones score poorly on its ranking system. Otherwise, Michigan will run the risk of punishing schools and authorizers that serve some of Michigan’s neediest students.

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