Organization Strongly Disputes Charter School Study

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A rival organization is sharply disputing a recent study from the University of Arkansas’s School Choice Demonstration Project purporting to show that charter schools are vastly more efficient at achieving higher test scores.

The Arkansas study found that, on average, charter schools produce a 40 percent greater return in increased test scores for every $1,000 per pupil spent on teaching a particular subject. It also found that charter schools outperformed their public competition in every single state observed, and that student economic outcomes improved more and more for each year spent in charter schools.

However, that study, argues the National School Boards Association (NSBA), is riddled with basic methodological errors that make it useless as a comparative tool.

The NSBA is an organization representing the interests of over 90,000 public school board members across the United States, and generally lobbies on behalf of traditional public schooling. The group says it supports charter schools, but only when such schools are created with the support of local school boards.

Jim Hull, a senior policy analyst with NSBA’s Center for Public Education, says that Arkansas’s study ignores the enormous differences between the typical charter school and the typical public school when it comes to expenses. Charter schools are able to achieve the same results with far less money, he said, because of a host of advantages the Arkansas study did not account for.

For instance, he said, traditional public schools are more likely to enroll students for whom English is a second language, and such students cost more resources to adequately educate.

Similarly, he said, charter schools have fewer students requiring special education, who both cost more to educate and provide little if any contribution to success on the NAEP tests used to evaluate schools in the Arkansas study. Other sources of inequality abound, Hull says: Charter schools are often allowed to reside in public school buildings at little or no cost, charters are less likely to be high schools, which are more expensive to operate, and charters offer far fewer of the services many expect of public schools, from bus service to school bands.

Hull accused the Arkansas researchers of hiding behind a supposed desire for objectivity to avoid doing the work necessary for a fair comparison.

“[M]aking an apples to apples comparison of how much funding charter schools receive to provide similar services as traditional public schools is not taking an advocacy position. It can be done with objective statistics,” Hull said. He admitted that making a completely fair comparison of charter and public school budgets would be “an arduous undertaking” that would require applying far more scrutiny towards individual items in school budgets, but said that until such an undertaking is made the schools simply cannot be compared with one another.

The School Choice Demonstration Project has had its work faulted before. A previous study released in the spring which purported to show that charter schools are underfunded compared to traditional public schools won a sharp rebuke from Rutgers education professor Bruce Baker, who accused the study of using shoddy methodology that invalidated its claims.

NSBA is an organization representing 90,000 school board members across the country.

“Until such a study is conducted that at least attempts to compare the funding for similar services provided, such claims that charter schools are more productive than traditional public schools cannot be substantiated,” said Hull.

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