Florida Report Offers Meager Insight into Charter School Performance

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Key New NEPC Review Takeaway: Simple comparisons reveal very little about the relative effectiveness of charter schools.

The Florida Department of Education recently published a report consisting almost entirely of simple graphs comparing achievement levels, achievement gaps, and achievement gains on statewide tests among charter school students to those among traditional public school students. The Department’s press release touted the report as showing that the state’s “charter school students consistently outperform their peers in traditional public schools.”

The release also quotes Florida’s Education Commissioner, asserting that the “report provides further evidence that [school choice policies] are right for Florida” and that there’s “no denying that choice works.” The press release’s spin was then echoed in pieces published/broadcast by several television stations, newspapers, and online outlets.

Yet simple comparisons such as those in this report reveal very little about the relative effectiveness of charter schools. Robert Bifulco of Syracuse University, reviewed Student Achievement in Florida’s Charter Schools: A Comparison of the Performance of Charter School Students with Traditional Public School Students, and found it to be of extremely limited use.

Beyond the odd exercise of counting the number of comparisons that appear favorable to charter schools, the report offers no discussion. The comparisons are not even explained. The fact that the report merely presents comparisons required by law without putting any policy “spin” on them might be considered a virtue. But the danger is that such reports can (and do) encourage erroneous conclusions.

At the very least, Professor Bifulco believes, the report should have clarified the purposes of its comparisons and cautioned the reader against drawing unwarranted and potentially harmful conclusions.

Find the review, by Robert Bifulco, at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/fl-charters

Find Student Achievement in Florida’s Charter Schools: A Comparison of the Performance of Charter School Students with Traditional Public School Students, published by the Florida Department of Education, at:
http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7778/urlt/SAR1819.pdf

Find Documents:
Publication Announcement: nepc.info/node/9861
NEPC Review: nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/fl-charters
Report Reviewed: fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7778/urlt/SAR1819.pdf

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: https://nepc.colorado.edu

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William J. Mathis

Robert Bifulco
Syracuse University
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