Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Charter schools in NYC have a positive effect on student achievement

But enroll relatively fewer students in the highest-need categories

An unprecedented amount of data about New York City's growing public charter school sector was released today in the first-ever State of the Sector report by the New York City Charter School Center. Charter Center researchers compiled information on 35 different data points, including parental demand, test scores, demographics, survey ratings, facilities access, attendance, and teacher and student retention, among other topics. The data show that charter schools serve largely disadvantaged students, and on average achieve greater academic results as well as higher rates of attendance and satisfaction, but enroll relatively fewer students in the highest-need categories.

In addition to this report, the public will also be able to access data on each of the city's 136 charter schools online, through a new set of "dashboards" on the Charter Center's web site. The dashboards offer a wealth of information about each charter school's student characteristics and outcomes, compared to those of district public school averages. The Charter Center worked with an advisory committee comprised of a dozen charter school leaders from around NYC to produce the report and the dashboards.

"The New York City charter school sector is in a constant state of change as it grows and matures, and while demand for seats is through the roof and performance strong, there is still a debate about the role they're playing in the larger school system," said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. "More transparent data – showing both accomplishments and areas for improvement – will make the conversation about charters more fact-based and more productive."

"The only way that the charter school community is going to get better and earn the right to serve more students is to be transparent about our results, both the strengths and the gaps, and to be relentlessly committed to continuous improvement. This report is an important part of the kind of dialogue we welcome, and we hope it demonstrates our commitment to transparency, accountability and the overall enhancement of all public schools," said Dacia Toll, Co-CEO and President of Achievement First.

"As a member of the Charter Leader Advisory Committee working in collaboration with the Charter Center's team on this project, I am pleased that the New York City charter sector is moving in the direction of more data transparency. The strategic use of data-driven decision making has always been a cornerstone of many charter schools, and putting all of this data out there in an easily accessible manner will greatly help schools in that effort," said Jacob Mnookin, Executive Director of Coney Island Prep.

The Charter Center initiated the data transparency project more than six months ago in an effort to answer some long asked questions about the sector, which now comprises 136 schools and 4% of all NYC students. The data will serve as one more important baseline against which the sector can measure its progress. Among the key findings of the report are:

-Charters are in high demand: last year, there were an estimated 5 applicants for every open charter school seat.

-Rigorous academic research shows that Charter schools also consistently outperform district schools on state exams, and post higher rates of attendance and satisfaction from parents, teachers, and students.

-College readiness rates are lower than the district average in the small number of charter high schools that have reached grade 12, but this is likely to improve as more charter high schools reach full size.

- Three in four charter school students come from low-income families. Over 60% are Black, reflecting the demand from the African-American community.

- Charters, on average, serve fewer English Language Learners (ELL) and special education students, a deficit that leaders have recognized in the past and are already addressing. At the same time, the report finds that charter schools are achieving greater outcomes than the district with the highest needs children that they do serve, particularly when it comes to helping ELLs gain fluency.

- Charter schools have managed their impressive student achievement results despite having higher rates of principal and teacher turnover. Some of those differences are in keeping with a new and changing sector and the data does not provide or distinguish among reasons for turnover. Improving the sector's ability to attract, develop and retain high-quality teachers and leaders could be an important driver for even strong gains.

- Charter schools serve as much as 25% of students in neighborhoods where they are heavily concentrated. A majority of charter schools are housed in NYC DOE facilities, but only 16% of school co-locations in NYC involve a charter school.

-There are still important limitations in the data available about charter and district schools, and much further study is needed.

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