CREDO, the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes, a non-partisan research center out of Stanford University, recently released its report on the educational impact of public charter schools in Maryland. It was the first such report on public charter schools in our state. This study, with data supplied from the Maryland State Department of Education, shows the impact of public charter schools across Maryland and Baltimore City. The results and impact are profound.

Analyzing four years of data from 2013 through 2017 and using the baseline of 180 days as one year of learning, CREDO found that Maryland public charter school students, on average, outperformed their peers in non-charter public schools. According to the study, public charter school students gained an additional 30 days of reading and 35 days of math achievement per year. In the last school year of the study, 2016-2017, students in our public charter schools gained an additional 47 days of reading and an astronomical 59 days of math achievement. These additional days of achievement are not due to more physical time in school but done in the same 180 days required of all public school students.

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Left to right, Dekerra Thompson, 13, Lataisha Howard, 14, Justice Downing, 14, and Rhonda Smith, 13, 8th graders at City Springs Public Charter School, with their signed copies of D. Watkins' third book, "We Speak for Ourselves: A Word from Forgotten Black America." Watkins is giving away 1,000 copies to Baltimore students at several schools.
Left to right, Dekerra Thompson, 13, Lataisha Howard, 14, Justice Downing, 14, and Rhonda Smith, 13, 8th graders at City Springs Public Charter School, with their signed copies of D. Watkins' third book, "We Speak for Ourselves: A Word from Forgotten Black America." Watkins is giving away 1,000 copies to Baltimore students at several schools. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

The study also provides important information on the students public charter schools serve. The statewide study confirms that public charter schools are serving the same students as their non-charter public counterparts with an equal or higher number of black students and special education students, and a comparable percentage of students living in poverty.

But, what does this specifically mean for Baltimore?

The study goes a step forward to aggregate findings specifically for urban public charter school students — the vast majority of students currently in Maryland public charter schools. These results showed even greater gains for charter students. The students experiencing poverty gained an additional 30 days of math achievement per year using the same baseline mentioned above. Black students gained an additional 41 days in reading and 47 in math achievement per year. LatinX students gained 41 days of reading and a stunning 77 days of math achievement. The study goes as far as to state that the results for charter schools in Maryland are notably better than the same study has found in other states across the country.

CREDO says Baltimore public charter schools work — something we have known for almost 15 years.

Second grade teacher Alison Mercier works with student Mishal McKinney as he relaxes on a classroom table at City Neighbors Charter School, where students are encouraged to get comfortable while working on reading skills.
Second grade teacher Alison Mercier works with student Mishal McKinney as he relaxes on a classroom table at City Neighbors Charter School, where students are encouraged to get comfortable while working on reading skills. (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor)

As public charter school leaders in Baltimore, we have always thought our schools serve as innovative, strong options for Baltimore families. A holistic evaluation of our public charter schools is noticeable everyday with our long waitlists (some schools have over 1,000 families), our parent and guardian testimonials, our noticeable educator innovation and our student stories of self. We add to the Baltimore City portfolio of public schools and options with language immersion, Montessori, International Baccalaureate, Reggio Emilia, arts integration and project-based learning, direct instruction, expeditionary learning, environmentally-based education and many unique approaches to learning. While the feedback, demand and innovations might not be as quantifiable or measurable, they are an essential piece of creating a rich, robust public school experience in our city. This CREDO study confirms our holistic evaluation with facts and research.

Even though the report confirms strong outcomes for public charter school students in our city, we also know that public charter schools can be a powerful tool for keeping families in Baltimore. While district enrollment continues to decline, demand for public charter schools steadily increases. The last time Baltimore City Public Schools saw an enrollment increase was from 2006 to 2012. During those same years, we saw a steady expansion of public charter schools across our city. Since 2012, city schools have essentially stopped the expansion of public charter schools. Since 2012, total district enrollment has steadily declined.

Gerald Hinton, right, a 7th grader, helps plant bulbs at Southwest Baltimore Charter School. In background, Kory Beidler of Ruppert Landscaping, (in green polo shirt, bending down) supervises Hermani Evans, kneeling to the left of Beidler) and other 6th and 7th grade students do the final plantings. 60 employees of Ruppert Landscape volunteered their time this morning to plant a sensory garden. Ruppert landscapers previously did the preparatory work, including excavation, grading, fencing and the installation of a new paver patio. This morning the 60 Ruppert volunteers planted vinca, shrubs, sod, and a perennial garden. Then the students planted bulbs and learned how to maintain the garden.
Gerald Hinton, right, a 7th grader, helps plant bulbs at Southwest Baltimore Charter School. In background, Kory Beidler of Ruppert Landscaping, (in green polo shirt, bending down) supervises Hermani Evans, kneeling to the left of Beidler) and other 6th and 7th grade students do the final plantings. 60 employees of Ruppert Landscape volunteered their time this morning to plant a sensory garden. Ruppert landscapers previously did the preparatory work, including excavation, grading, fencing and the installation of a new paver patio. This morning the 60 Ruppert volunteers planted vinca, shrubs, sod, and a perennial garden. Then the students planted bulbs and learned how to maintain the garden. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

As we near 15 years since the first public charter schools were founded, we are honored to be part of the community of dozens of public charter school operators, thousands of educators, over 10,000 families who have worked so hard in a commitment to creating powerful public school options for the families and now over 12,000 children of our city. The CREDO study names the results of this labor in bold terms. The families of Baltimore and, now, the data have spoken — public charter schools are clearly good for Baltimore’s families and children.

Mike Chalupa (mchalupa@cityneighbors.org) and Kona-Facia Freeman-Nepay are co-chairs of the Baltimore Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

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