Pa. charter students' skills fall far short, study reveals
By Kate Wilcox
Published: Sunday, July 7, 2013, 10:20 p.m.
From the start, Keisha Dumas knew she would never send her son to a public school in Pittsburgh.
“Even when my son was a baby, I was like, ‘He's not going to go,' ” said Dumas, a Pittsburgh Public Schools graduate.
Dumas, of the Hill District, believed the public system was struggling, so she enrolled her son, Keimon Dupree, 12, in Urban Pathways Charter School last year.
She researched other charter schools in Pittsburgh and liked Urban Pathways' academic programs.
She hasn't looked back. Her son continues to excel at Urban Pathways, consistently making the CEO List, the school's honor roll.
Nationally, charter school students surpass gains made on standardized tests by students at traditional public schools but, on average, Pennsylvania's charter students fall behind their public school peers, according to a recent study of charter schools by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University. The study looked at traditional and cyber charter schools.
Nationally, the study found, charter school students posted reading gains equivalent to an additional eight days of school, compared with traditional public school students. In math, the two groups were even.
In Pennsylvania, the study indicated charter students lost the equivalent of 29 days of learning in Pennsylvania System of School Assessment standardized test reading scores and 50 days of learning in PSSA math scores, according to the study.
Charter schools are self-managed public schools funded by school districts, which pay a fee set by the state for each student. They are considered more flexible than traditional public schools and are overseen by the state Department of Education.
Dev Davis, research manager for the Stanford study, said it is important to note that researchers found wide differences in scores between each charter school. Some make adequate yearly progress, as determined by the Education Department; in others, most students do not reach proficient levels.
Urban Pathways, for example, did not meet AYP in 2012 and received a “warning” from the state.
Young Scholars of Western Pennsylvania, a charter school in Baldwin-Whitehall School District that caters to students who do not speak English as a first language, also did not meet AYP.
Coordinator and math teacher Kamil Toprak said the school has an uphill battle in trying to assimilate students from six districts and different cultural backgrounds.
On the other hand, Propel Charter Schools, with the exception of Propel Northside, all made AYP, according to state records.
“I think, as you know, there's a lot of variation,” said Jeremy Resnick, executive director. “There's good schools and not good schools.”
This sizable difference in standardized test performance across charter schools is something the Department of Education should control through stricter regulations, said Robert P. Strauss, professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.
“The root cause of poor academic performance is that there are no guidelines for governance of charter schools, so the absence of oversight of the public charter is a problem,” he said.
The lowest gains were found in cyber charter schools in a 2011 Stanford study of charter schools in Pennsylvania.
“The cybers are getting some of the lowest-performing students, and they don't have a lot of time to work with them,” said Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.
Fayfich said that often, students who struggle the most with a traditional school or charter school turn to cyber schools to complete their educations.
Baldwin-Whitehall Superintendent Randal Lutz takes issue with that statement, claiming that standardized scores dropped for some high-performing students who left to attend charter schools.
“Expectations are low, and demands are low,” he said. “There is not a teacher in front of them.”
The Stanford study measured learning gains in students, meaning how much a charter student's scores improved that year compared to a similar student in a public school.
Yet not everything is about scores, Davis said.
“Maybe they're providing other curricular enhancements that are not measured by reading and math scores,” she said of charter schools.
Principal David Gallup said Urban Pathways school officials watch whether students have enough to eat or somewhere to stay for the night.
“Until their needs are met, kids aren't capable of learning,” he said.
Keimon said he loves the way his teachers structure classes, and he finds the course work challenging.
His mother is pleased with his performance at the school.
“This is my favorite school yet,” Keimon said. “It's just the teachers are nicer to me and they all have a motto — ‘To keep all the students engaged to learn.' ”
Nationally, the most significant gains the study found were for minority students, economically disadvantaged students and English-language learners in charter schools.
Black students gained 14 days of learning in charter schools, and black students living in poverty gained 29 days in reading and 36 days in math.
Those findings don't surprise Dumas.
“In public schools, there are so many children to a classroom, the student might not get as much attention,” she said.
Gallup said Urban Pathways' kindergarten-through-fifth-grade classes are 99 percent minority students, and 80 percent of students are disadvantaged.
At Young Scholars of Western Pennsylvania, where many students speak Russian as a first language, Toprak said the school is better suited to aid them than traditional public schools.
“We have a tutor for almost every student,” he said.
But Baldwin-Whitehall's Lutz said it's “absolutely incorrect” to say that public schools cannot provide for all students.
“Public schools have such a breadth and depth of intervention programs to meet kids' needs,” he said. “I've not seen a school yet that can provide for that wide range of students.”
Kate Wilcox is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 724-836-6155 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Lawmaker: Responders should carry drug that counteracts opiates
- Bill would let local police use radar guns
- W.Va. man dies in Greene County ATV crash
- Family of curlers sets sights on ’18 Olympics
- Retired Pa. Game Commission chief to get $220K severance payment
- Penn State trustee resigns, regrets Paterno vote
- $1.5M grant will pay for Presque Isle sand
- Pope Francis’ civil union stance has its defenders
- Philly, state leaders hopeful for pope visit in 2015
- Penn State on pace for record number of applications
- Trucker cited for slow speed in fatal crash on I-80