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Study Shows Charter Schools Still Lag Traditional Public Schools in Test Scores and Are Increasingly Segregated by Race and Income

FEBRUARY 24, 2012—A 2008 study by the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota Law School showed that after two decades of experience, most charter schools in the Twin Cities still underperformed comparable traditional public schools and were highly segregated by race and income. New work, which both updates and supplements the previous study with data collected in 2010-11, shows that although charter school enrollment growth has slowed, little else has changed in the three years since the original study was released. Charters still lag behind their traditional counterparts academically and remain more highly segregated by race and income.

"Despite some significant changes in the state's charter laws aimed at improving accountability in charter schools—at least partly as a result of studies like our 2008 report—charter schools as a group continue to fail to meet the academic and social objectives set forth by proponents," said Myron Orfield, Director of the Institute on Race and Poverty.

Increasingly Segregated Charter Schools The study shows that a very high proportion of charters are essentially single-race schools. In sharp contrast with the traditional system, where the percentage of schools that are integrated has increased steadily, the share of integrated charter schools has been stagnant. As a result, charter school students of all races are still much more likely to be attending segregated schools than their counterparts in traditional schools, and the gaps are widening. For instance, in 2010-11, 89 percent of black charter students attended segregated schools, up from 81 percent in 2000-01. By comparison, just 44 percent of black students in traditional public schools in the metro were in segregated settings, down from 56 percent in 2000-01. Hispanic, Asian, and Native American charter students were also roughly twice as likely to be in segregated settings as their traditional school counterparts in 2010-11.

Recent trends also show some changes in the average composition of charter schools. Charter enrollments peaked at 68 percent non-white in 2003-04, but growth since then has been split more evenly and the percentage of non-white students in charters fell to 57 percent in 2010-11. Increasing white enrollments have been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the share of white charter students in segregated settings (predominantly white schools). In 2000-01, 56 percent of white charter students were in predominantly white schools. By 2010-11, this had increased to 74 percent. In contrast, the percentage of white students in traditional schools in predominantly white schools fell from 81 to 57 percent during this time.

"The high rates of racial and economic segregation matter because research shows that students do worse in segregated school environments than in integrated settings," said Tom Luce, Research Director of the Institute. "Given that, it’s not surprising that this work, along with virtually every other comprehensive study of charter schools in Minnesota, shows that charter schools are outperformed by their traditional counterparts in standardized testing, even after controlling for school characteristics such as poverty."

Lagging Test Scores
Although both the original study and the updated data show that a few charters perform well on standardized tests, the Institute's analysis of 2010-11 test score data, which controls for a wide variety of school characteristics, shows that charters as a group still lag behind traditional schools. Proficiency rates are 7.5 percentage points lower for math and 4.4 points lower for reading in charter elementary schools than in traditional elementary schools. Choice is Yours schools outperform charter schools by 10.5 percentage points in math and 6.8 points in reading.

Patterns of Mismanagement
"The problems are not only with the academic and social performance of charter schools," Orfield adds. "Some charter schools have also been managed very badly." Although explanations for all charter school closings are not available, the charter system has exhibited management problems, sometimes criminal in nature, not often seen in the traditional system. The study documents the reasons for closure of charter schools where it is possible to track down reasons in the public record. Among the 14 closures where records exist (out of 39 total), four resulted from illegal misappropriation of funds and another seven involved financial mismanagement that didn't cross the threshold into illegality.

About the Institute on Race and Poverty
Established in 1993, the IRP investigates the systemic ways that policies and practices disproportionately affect people of color and the disadvantaged, and it promotes alternative strategies to address these conditions. Through research, communications, mapping, and legal advocacy, the Institute provides resources to policymakers, civil rights advocates, and the general public to address structural disadvantages based upon race and class.

For more information about the report, contact Myron Orfield at (612) 625-7976 (orfield@umn.edu) or Thomas Luce at (612) 625-5344 (tluce@umn.edu).

 

Study 2012