Charter schools underperforming in Arkansas

Charter schools underperforming in Arkansas

A recent study found that Arkansas is one of the states where charters are not doing as well as public schools. According to the report by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), charter school students had more gains than traditional public school students across the nation as a whole but the results were very uneven across states.  The report includes twenty-seven states where 95% of all charter students are enrolled. Charter schools outperformed public schools in only 11 of these states. Arkansans, however, was one of eight states where charters underperformed in reading and math. Other states with lagging charter school performance included Arizona, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah.

The report shows that Arkansas charter school students received the equivalent of 22 fewer days of math and reading learning compared to public school students in the state. In terms of demographics, charter school students in Arkansas look much like the overall student population in the state. Charter schools enroll a higher percentage of black students and a lower percentage of low-income and special education students. Therefore the problem is not that the charter schools are serving more difficult student populations.

*Source is ADE Data Center 2011 data.
** Source is 2012 Adequacy Report by Arkansas Interim Committees on Education.

The report is consistent with the findings of Jonathan Mills of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, as reported in the Spring 2013 issue of the Journal of Education Finance. Mills concluded, “[Arkansas] charter schools have small but statistically-significant, negative impacts on student achievement for both math and literacy.” Mills goes on to say that the negative impact declines with the number of years of charter school operation.

During last legislative session, the Arkansas General Assembly made it more difficult for the Arkansas State Board of Education to review charter applications and evaluate them for closure. That function was moved to a new entity composed of Arkansas Department of Education employees answering to the state’s education commissioner and ultimately the governor.

Jerri Derlikowski, AACF Director of Education Policy and Finance, says “Arkansas policy-makers should consider the results of the CREDO report, which is favorable to charter schools at the national level but points out their weaknesses in Arkansas. Given the results of the CREDO study and the small niche role that charter schools currently play in the Arkansas education system, it’s clear to us that any large-scale effort to improving education for low-income and at-risk students should be focused on proven, evidence-based strategies, such as expanded access to quality pre-K programs, that can build on Arkansas’s current public school delivery system. Using research to guide state policy is critical.”

Wendy Lecker, senior attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project at the Education Law Center, studied the costs and results of charter schools and their performance nationally based on the CREDO study. She concluded, “Taxpayers pay billions to fund parallel charter school systems that lack public oversight, exclude our neediest children, increase segregation, starve existing schools and decimate communities.”