Sad to say, but the Philadelphia Inquirer story this morning about the performance of Pennsylvania’s charter schools largely failed to separate fact from fiction. In an analysis of a report from Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) – Expanding High Quality Charter School Options: Strong Charter School Legislation Matters – the Inquirer repeats politically charged claims from PCCY that as a whole charters are performing on a lower level than district schools. This is nothing new from PCCY, which has made this attack in the past.
Right here in Philadelphia, it’s worth considering these facts:
School quality – The state measures the quality of PA’s public schools through the School Performance Profile (SPP), which calculates a score (1-100+) for each school based on academic achievement, student growth, access to and participation in advanced coursework, etc. The average SPP score for Philadelphia’s district schools in 2017 was 52.5, while the city’s charter schools averaged a score of 57.6. Though neither average score broke the benchmark score of 70 (the score identified by the PA Department of Education as the minimum quality standard), there were a higher percentage of Philadelphia charter schools (13 percent) that met or exceeded an SPP score of 70 than district schools (10 percent).
Academic achievement levels in math and reading – Last year on the reading portion of the PSSA (administered to students in grades 3-8), 34 percent of students attending a Philadelphia district school were able to demonstrate grade-level skills, compared to 42 percent of the students in the city’s charter schools. Math proficiency levels showed 19 percent of students in Philadelphia’s district schools (grades 3-8) demonstrating grade-level proficiency, and 20 percent of their peers in charter schools able to demonstrate the same skills.
Third grade reading – Research has shown that a student’s ability to read by third grade is a critical indicator for future success in school and beyond. For the students in Philadelphia’s charter schools, 50 percent were scored proficient on the PSSA when they exited third grade, compared to only 35 percent of students attending a Philadelphia district school.
Academic outcomes for students who are economically disadvantaged – In Philadelphia, with 75 percent of charter and 71 percent of district students identified as economically disadvantaged, every school faces the same challenges in educating this at-risk population. However, the city’s charter schools are doing a much better job of educating economically disadvantaged students than their district counterparts. In schools where economically disadvantaged students make up 80-100 percent of the school population, charters had 41.2 percent of their third graders showing proficiency in reading, while only 23.7 percent of third-graders were able to demonstrate the same skills in district schools.
Graduation and postsecondary outcomes – The K-12 education system is only as good as the outcomes they produce, and the ultimate goal is that every student in PA school will one day graduate with the skills and knowledge needed to be successful adults. Once again, in Philadelphia — where the largest concentration of charters operate — it is clear that the charter sector is outperforming the district. The graduation rate for the city’s district schools is 69 percent, while their charter peers are graduating students at a rate of 83 percent. After graduation, 55 percent of charter school students went on to pursue higher education, while only 51 percent of students from a district school did the same.
It’s also important to note that 21 of Philadelphia’s charter schools were once failing district schools that were turned over to charter operators in a last-ditch effort to turn them around. Under these sad circumstances, it is remarkable that Philadelphia’s charter sector has made such a significant level of progress over the last 10 years.
Here’s hoping the newspaper will present these facts in any further coverage about the impact of charter schools, rather than repeating the tired fiction that charters don’t deliver results for the students they serve.