Accountability And Flexibility Credited for 'Mission-Driven' Schools' Better Performance
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
July 27, 2011
Students at charter schools are making significant strides narrowing academic achievement gaps — between poor and affluent students, between urban and suburban schools and between minority and white students — according to a new analysis of the 2011 Connecticut Mastery Test released Wednesday.
A report from the Connecticut Charter School Network says that black, Hispanic and low-income students in charter schools far exceed state averages for their demographics, cutting the math achievement gap in half for black and low-income students and reducing it by two-thirds for Hispanic students.
On average statewide, students who receive free and reduced price lunches — a measure used to identify poor students — are 22.75 percentage points behind their more affluent peers in math proficiency.
However, low-income students in charter schools are only 13 points behind the more affluent, average students.
These figures are drawn from mastery test results showing that 94.2 percent of the more affluent students scored at the proficiency level or higher on the 2011 math test. By comparison, 71.5 percent of students statewide who receive free lunch scored at the proficient level.
But among those poor students at charter schools, the figure was 80.5 percent.
Also, low-income third-graders in charter schools are 18.7 percentage points more proficient on the math test than low-income third-graders statewide and low-income eighth-graders in charter schools are 15.7 percentage points more proficient than their low-income peers statewide.
Charter school students who are black, Hispanic and low-income also have better reading scores than their peers in ordinary public schools, but by smaller margins.
Jo Lutz, director of the Connecticut Charter School Network, attributed the schools' better performance on the tests to their "mission-driven" atmosphere.
"They attract very dedicated people. They also have on-site management," Lutz said. "Everyone who works at the schools has a higher degree of control over the working environment and that creates a culture of dedication and of buy-in into what the school is doing."
She said the state's charter schools vary a lot. "They will all tell you something different about what makes their school special," she said.
However, she said, the key elements across all the charter schools are "accountability and flexibility. … When you have those two things in combination, it kind of leaves the field wide open for people with good ideas to implement them."
She said it is hard to say why the reading scores aren't as comparatively high as the math scores. "Reading is always more of a problem than math," she said.
"Perhaps kids don't grow up in literate environments, but they still have to deal with numbers because of money," Lutz said.
The report from the Charter School Network said the 2011 scores are in keeping with a trend that shows that charter school students are improving their performance on the mastery test at a faster rate than students at the local public schools in their host districts.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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