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Study Finds Charter School Progress

Advocates Expected To Ask For More Financial Support

April 7, 2005
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

Children in Connecticut's charter schools generally are making faster gains on state tests than other public school students from the same cities and towns, according to a study being released today.

Although there were considerable differences in performance, including some schools where students lost ground, the overall average scores showed encouraging improvement at most of the experimental schools, a study by Western Michigan University showed.

"Charter schools in Connecticut are performing well," said Gary Miron, the lead researcher.

Of six states where Western Michigan researchers have studied charter schools, "the results from Connecticut are the most positive and promising for charter schools we have seen," Miron wrote in his report.

The report was commissioned by the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, an advocacy group supporting charter schools, and is certain to be used in lobbying the state legislature for greater financial support for the schools.

A bill before the state legislature would increase funding for charter schools, provide money for buildings and allow officials to adjust enrollment limits.

Fourteen small public charter schools operate in Connecticut under a 9-year-old state charter law. Charter schools are part of a national reform movement designed to encourage innovation by allowing educators to operate without many of the regulations governing most public schools.

Charter schools, one element of the national school reform movement, have been supported by the Bush administration and groups supporting school choice.

Today's study examines trends on the Connecticut Mastery Test by following progress for clusters of students over a period of years. In most cases, the charter school students posted larger gains than did other public school students from the same towns.

For example, on the mastery test scoring scale, fourth-graders from Integrated Day Charter School in Norwich, Jumoke Academy in Hartford and Side by Side Community School in Norwalk scored more than 5 points below their public school counterparts in mathematics in 2001, but as sixth-graders in 2003 they scored 9 points higher than other sixth-graders in Norwich, Hartford and Norwalk, the study found.

The results are similar to those of an earlier Western Michigan evaluation of Connecticut's charter schools done for the state Department of Education in 2002.

"This reaffirms what we had said - that a small school environment, flexible hiring, a longer school day, longer school year, ability to limit class size [all] contribute to greater academic performance," said Mark Linabury, a consultant on charter schools for the state education department.

Tim Dutton, director of the Bridge Academy, a college-preparatory charter high school in Bridgeport, said charter schools "have the advantage of being designed with a single focus and specific mission." And they are small enough to change quickly, he said.

"Bridgeport has a [school] board of 12 people covering 20,000 students," he said. "I have a board of 12 covering 180 students."

Across the nation, supporters and critics have clashed over the performance of charter schools. The debate heated up with the release of a federal study of test scores for the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress showing that fourth-graders in charter schools had lower math scores than students in regular public schools.

The Western Michigan research team said it found generally positive results for charter schools in Connecticut and Delaware but negative results in Michigan and mixed results in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Miron said Connecticut's results are due, in part, to a strong oversight system by state officials. The state has closed down some low-performing charter schools and allowed others to go out of business.

Although the overall results were encouraging, not all charter schools made gains on the mastery test of fourth-, sixth- and eighth-graders or the Connecticut Academic Performance Test of 10th-graders.

Charter school 10th-graders, for example, produced "mixed to negative" results in comparison with their counterparts in other public schools, the study said.

In addition, the study said that schools met fewer than half of the goals they identified in their own annual reports on matters such as educational progress, racial diversity and objectives related to the schools' missions.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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