To paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s wisdom, “There are two tragedies in life: not getting what you want and getting it.” In the case at hand at Palm Lane Elementary School, establishing a charter school may not result in the outcomes hoped for. In fact, researchers have found that student achievement does not usually vary between public schools and charter schools (Center for Research on Education Outcomes, 2013).
The aforementioned and most recent national study of charter schools completed by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University examined test scores in reading and math of a sample of 1,250,000+ students (the majority in Grades 3-8) attending public schools and charter schools in 25 states, New York City, and the District of Columbia. Students were matched based upon test scores and demographic characteristics (e.g., race, English fluency, socioeconomic status). To assess the influence of charter schools on annual achievement growth, changes in year-to-year test scores of charter school students were compared with corresponding scores of students attending public schools.
The findings were reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education (2014). No difference in math scores was found between school type. And the difference in reading scores was a standard deviation of 0.01. A deviation of 0.2 is regarded as small (Magnusson, 2013). A deviation of 0.01 is very small, the amount of growth expected by adding approximately 4 school days to a school year. In effect, this minuscule difference lacks any practical significance.
The difference of a standard deviation of 0.1 (not 0.01) means that 54% of students in charter schools scored above the average (mean) score of students in public schools, 96% of the scores in the two groups overlapped, and there was a 53% chance that a student picked at random from the charter group scored higher score than a student picked at random from the public school group. Again, this difference lacked any practical significance.
To date, no vision for restarting Palm Lane School as a charter school has been presented to provide any basis to believe that a charter school operator would change student performance. Lacking any substantive change in the school’s curricula and instructional methods, in all probability student outcomes will remain the same: Palm Lane students will continue to score significantly below the normal range for their age and grade on tests of reading and math.