Indianapolis charter school performance will be carefully scrutinized in the upcoming battle for scarce dollars for education funding when Indiana begins to draft its two-year budget in January. The National Center on School Choice’s report by Anna Nicotera, "Charter School Effects in an Urban School District: An Analysis of Student Achievement Gains in Indianapolis", comes at a perfect time to provide an accurate picture of performance in Indianapolis charter schools and provides sound guidance for sustaining the progress achieved.
Since the first student took a seat in an Indianapolis charter school in 2002, more than 23 schools have opened and enrolled approximately 6,000 students in this city. Growing in the shadow of a large, urban district that has experienced declining enrollment for decades, the Indianapolis charter school movement has become a target of the education establishment, accused of taking money from traditional districts but failing on its promise to educate.
The first slings directed toward charter schools were based on untruths and myths. When facts stepped in to repudiate these fallacies, opponents next directed their criticisms to charter school performance using examples of new charter schools that performed poorly on state standardized assessments. Absent in the criticism was attention to mitigating factors such as students’ prior level of academic achievement (often well below grade level), the newness of the school, the limited time the school has had to educate the student before the test and certainly not the amount of growth a student attains regardless of passage or failure on a state assessment. This is why a broader view is needed to more accurately evaluate these schools.
The report found that students who switched to Indianapolis charter schools experienced significant gains in mathematics achievement. Further, the report found gains in reading among these students, but at levels lower than the gains in math. The report also found that parents chose Indianapolis charter schools for academic reasons and that the charter schools differed in their approach to instruction than their traditional public school counterparts.
This is important. Local charter critics claim that charter schools perform no better than district schools and are not innovative. The National Center on School Choice report refutes both claims.
Next, the report indicates that time spent in charter schools is a significant factor in academic growth. This provides support for the argument that it is unfair to judge a charter school’s performance in its first few weeks of operation, regardless of how often charter critics use this tactic.
Finally, it was heartening that the report looked at external factors contributing to charter success in Indianapolis. Mayor Greg Ballard, the only mayor in the nation with authorizing powers, has a strong Office of Charter Schools. Its focus on quality is exceptional, and the results found in this study speak for themselves. Other organizations such as the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association, local business groups, and supportive state officials like Gov. Mitch Daniels, Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, and many legislators have made Indianapolis and the state of Indiana a place with great promise and opportunity for public charter schools.
I am pleased the National Center on School Choice’s well-timed report has provided support for the hard work of these groups and individuals. "Charter School Effects in an Urban School District" provides ammunition to refute the entrenched education establishment’s efforts to criticize charter performance, even if the facts get in the way of their claims.