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Report: Charter school students do better on NAEP — despite less funding

Taxpayers are getting a better bang for their buck when students attend charter schools, a new report from the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform concludes.

The charter-friendly think tank, in its latest report, found charter students — despite a lack of equal funding — on average meet or beat their peers enrolled in district-run schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, is administered every two years to a representative sampling of students in fourth and eighth grade. The Arkansas researchers compared results of students at both district-run and charter schools and how much each institution received in tax dollars to determine the taxpayer’s return on investment.

The report found charter schools to be more cost effective: For every $1,000 invested, charters on average gained an additional 17 NAEP points in math and 16 points in reading compared to district-run schools.

Colorado charter schools were slightly above the national average in their return on investment, according to the report.

The authors concluded this happens for one of two reasons. Either students in charters, with fewer public dollars, score significantly higher on the NAEP or students in charters, with significantly fewer public dollars, score equal to or slightly lower on the NAEP.

The institution, which is financed in part by the Walton Family Foundation, stopped short of recommending more public dollars should be sent to charter schools.

“We can conclude from our evidence, that charter schools are more productive at current funding levels,” said researcher Patrick Wolf. “They are operating more efficiently. But if the funding gaps were closed, all bets would be off. Charter school performance could increase, stay the same, or shrink. We just don’t know.”

Both the NAEP and school finance data used in the report are from 2011. The report did exclude some states because they either don’t have charter schools or they don’t break out their charter school data in NAEP results. Between one and four percent of a state’s student population are enrolled in charter schools. The NAEP sampling reflects that.

In Colorado, NAEP data was collected and used in the Arkansas report from about 260 charter students and 2,400 district-run students who took the test in 2011.

Disclosure: Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of The Walton Family Foundation.

Report: The productivity of charter schools

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