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Charter study conclusions flawed

Patterson Park Public Charter School is seeking to capitalize on its recent success by getting approval to open a similar school in Bayview. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun video)

Both the article about a charter school study and its authors draw the wrong conclusions (“Study: Maryland charter students’ gains outpace those at traditional schools; black, Hispanic pupils benefit most,” July 16).

The study begins with a table that compares demographics of students in traditional public schools, feeders and charter schools throughout Maryland in the 2015/2016 academic year. Then it creates a so-called virtual control record, or a “virtual twin,” that is a synthesis of the actual academic experiences of up to seven students who share identical characteristics to the charter school student, except for the fact that the virtual control record students attend a public school that each charter school’s students would have attended if not enrolled in the charter school. In other words, the virtual control record student does not attend a hypothetical school anywhere in Maryland. The student attends a school in the charter school student’s community.

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Further, the study looks at demographics and socioeconomic status of the students, but doesn’t explicitly look at the level of funding in the school system and class size. The study says “[U]sing statistical methods, we isolate the contributions of schools from other social or programmatic influences on a student’s growth.” Maybe this is how the study accounts for school funding and class sizes, but why would such crucial factors be omitted or folded into this general statement? Buried in the study is a comparison of charter school students to public school students in urban and suburban regions. The authors conclude “[S]tudents attending charter schools in the suburbs have growth similar to that of their suburban (public school virtual control record students) in both reading and math." There was no significant difference between charter school performance and virtual control record performance.

So again, the questions remain: What is the funding level at the virtual control record school? What are the class sizes? How much money is spent per student? All these are relevant to the study and they are all omitted. In light of these flaws, it’s important to remember that charter schools target poor communities. According to the study, “[many] charter school operators expressly aim to improve educational outcomes for traditionally underserved students, especially for students in poverty. In Maryland, 56 percent of charter school students are eligible for subsidized school meals, a proxy for low income households.”

So the only conclusion one can draw from this study is this: while some charter schools perform better than traditional public schools in urban communities, they do not outperform students in traditional public schools in suburban communities.

Hiruy Hadgu, Savage

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