Of all the worthless statistics that get thrown around in the charter-schools debate, perhaps the least important is the comparison between all charter schools and all traditional public schools statewide.
It’s a favorite figure among opponents of the constitutional amendment on this November’s ballot, which would affirm the state’s ability to create public charter schools. Among those who have trotted it out is state schools superintendent John Barge.
Here’s the statistic: In the 2010-11 school year, 73 percent of all Georgia public schools met the federally mandated adequate yearly progress, or AYP, while only 70 percent of all charter schools did.
With results like that, why bother with charter schools? Right?
While Barge and his fellow travelers in the educational establishment are correct about this figure, it is entirely meaningless in the current debate.
Utterly, wholly, completely meaningless. Irrelevant. Misleading, in fact.
For starters, that 73-to-70 comparison does not separate the charter schools approved by local school boards, which are not at issue in the November referendum, from those approved by the state, which are.
Reflect that key difference, and suddenly state-chartered schools have the advantage: 75 percent of them met AYP (this and the other more-detailed stats in this column come from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, also using data for 2010-11).
Still, even that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Not every part of the state has charter schools. They tend not to open in districts served by top-notch traditional public schools; the point of school choice is to help students in lower-performing areas.
Compare state-chartered schools only to the traditional public schools in the districts they serve, and they look even better. Traditional public schools in the districts served by these charters logged an AYP of just 67 percent — compared, again, to 75 percent for the state-chartered schools.
But even that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The advantage of some state-chartered schools over the traditional schools with which they compete is even starker when we look at the scores of racial and ethnic minorities.
Take Ivy Preparatory Academy, a school that received a state charter after the Gwinnett County school board rejected it. In meeting or exceeding state standards on the 2011 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, black students at Ivy Prep outscored their counterparts in local traditional schools 93 percent to 79 percent. For Hispanic students, it was 88 percent to 80 percent. For Asian students, it was 97 percent to 81 percent.
And for those who say the state charter-schools amendment is only for the benefit of metro Atlanta: Don’t tell that to the students, parents and teachers at Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology in Bulloch County, in southeast Georgia. CCAT recorded a graduation rate of 96 percent — compared to 69 percent in Bulloch County’s traditional high schools.
Not every state-chartered school performed higher in all aspects. But the beauty of charter schools is that the ones that don’t produce good results can be closed down, unlike bad traditional schools that keep failing students year after year.
That said, these are not trivial differences. You just won’t hear them from those who support the status quo of keeping students trapped in failing schools, stuck because of the establishment’s stubbornness.
– By Kyle Wingfield