Study: Charter schools get more bang for the buck

A study released Tuesday finds charter schools as a whole are more cost-effective than district schools.

The study by researchers at the University of Arkansas has produced the first national comparison of the “relative productivity” of the two sectors, drawing on school budgets and student performance data from 27 states and the District of Columbia. The study concludes “charter schools are consistently more productive than traditional public schools” for all of the states it covered.

The researchers gauged school productivity by two measures: Cost-effectiveness, based on student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress per $1,000 in per-pupil revenue, and return on investment, which is based on predictions of students’ future earnings. To score better in either analysis, charters would have to either produce better results for students, receive less funding, or both.

The results may not come as a total surprise to many who follow education policy in Florida, where charter schools generally perform comparably to district-run schools, but do so on smaller budgets.

Charter performance matrix

The study finds charter schools in various states tend to either bring better student achievement, receive lower funding, or both.

An earlier study, also by the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform, found charters typically operate on substantially fewer funds than their district-run counterparts.

The newest findings could lend more fuel to the debate over equitable funding for charter schools. The researchers sound a note of caution on that point, pointing out that while more funding per student is associated with better results, the effect of additional funding tends to be small. They do note that ”much of the basis for the higher productivity of public charter schools rests on the fact that they receive less funding and therefore are highly disciplined in their use of those education dollars.”

Although an argument can be made that students in public charter schools should be funded at a level that is more equal to the student funding levels in (traditional public schools), and we make that very argument in our revenue study, that argument is grounded in the issue of fairness more so than any empirical certainty that charter schools would continue to be more productive than traditional public schools were all public schools funded equally.

On the measures examined in the study, charters in Washington, D.C. stand out: They outpace traditional public schools by a wider margin on both measures of productivity than those in any of the states. The researchers rank Florida fourth of 22 jurisdictions for cost-effectiveness, and 14 of 21 areas examined for return on investment.

Albert Cheng, a University of Arkansas doctoral fellow and one of the study’s authors, said there are strengths and weaknesses in both measures, one of which is closely tied to student NAEP scores and one that projects further into students’ futures.

“We felt that both would be valuable pieces to include in debates,” he said. “The bottom line is that both have the same result” — a greater bang for the buck in charter schools.

In nearly half the states included in the study, charters serve greater proportions of students who qualify for the federal school lunch program, which indicates they serve more disadvantaged populations. That is not the case in Florida.

Still, the researchers took steps to control for student characteristics. They also note that many of the states where charters do serve disproportionate numbers of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches perform relatively well on their productivity measures. As a result, they write: “Any claim that the higher productivity of charters relative to (traditional public schools) is because charters serve a more advantaged population would be undermined.”


Florida roundup: Scholarship accounts, Common Core, campaigns and more

Personal learning scholarship accounts. The Jewish Journal takes a detailed look at Florida’s newest option for special needs students.

florida roundup logoCharter schools. Some Orange County charters make substantial improvements in the latest round of school grades, while others struggle. Orlando Sentinel. Hillsborough district officials raise concerns about the budget impacts of students leaving for charters. Tampa Bay Times. Researchers study the impact high-performing charters can have on students’ health. Health News Florida.

Open enrollment. Less than half of Marion’s schools would have room for new students if its controlled open enrollment policy takes effect as expected. Ocala Star-Banner.

Private schools. A Volusia private school hosts a forum to reassure parents in the wake of a teacher’s arrest for child pornography. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Dual enrollment. Volusia schools consider a partnership with Bethune-Cookman University. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Common Core. StateImpact and The Hechinger Report reflect on a year of following the standards’ implementation.

Campaigns. Gov. Rick Scott talks STEM at a political event in Boca Raton. Palm Beach Post. More from StateImpact.

Continue Reading →


Study: More public school choices, fewer private school vouchers



Students with access to a wider range of public school choices may be less likely to sign up for private school vouchers.

That’s one of the most significant new findings of a Florida-based study that provides a detailed picture of factors that drive parents to “shop around” for the best education options for their children.

“The results so far suggest that the contexts of students’ own public schools, their private school options and their public school options are all related to participation in the voucher program,” writes Cassandra Hart, an assistant professor at the University of California-Davis who authored the study.

Hart previously worked with David Figlio of Northwestern University on other school choice-related research, including an earlier analysis of students who participate in Florida’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. Figlio’s annual evaluations of the program  (which is administered by organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog) have found that students who participate are more disadvantaged than eligible students who don’t, and that participants come disproportionately from struggling schools.

Hart’s new paper, published in the June edition of the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, examines similar data. But it also expands on earlier research by analyzing a wider range of information, including teacher and principal surveys about school climates, and by analyzing the “markets” for public and private school enrollment.

Hart compares the school and individual characteristics of 555,271 students who may have been eligible for scholarships with 2,764 new scholarship participants from the 2007-08 school year, to look at factors that may have spurred the latter to participate.

In what she writes may be the study’s most “novel contribution,” Hart finds that students with a robust set of public school options – with a large number of charter schools in a 5-mile radius, or in school districts with popular open enrollment programs – appear less likely to sign up for tax credit scholarships than those with fewer such options. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Scholarship accounts, school choice, Common Core and more

Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. Florida’s newest school choice program officially opened Friday. WCJB. Sentinel School ZoneredefinED. State Sen. Andy Gardiner explains the program on the EdFly.


Charter schools. Half a dozen new ones, with a diverse set of offerings, are slated to open in Hillsborough this fall. Tampa Tribune.

Tax credit scholarships. A lawsuit by the statewide teachers union brings the regulation of private schools under renewed scrutiny. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Florida Education Association’s lawyer tells that the union was most concerned about the tax credit scholarship legislation, and the personal learning accounts program could be a “collateral casualty” of its recently announced lawsuit.

Early learning. Kindergarten, and even pre-K, may be too late for low-income parents to start thinking about their children’s education, experts tell the Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher conduct. A South Florida judge sides with a teacher who protested her firing after she allowed her daughter to be beaten with an extension cord. Sun-Sentinel.

Magnet schools. A Palm Beach County elementary retools into an arts magnet. Palm Beach Post.

Special needs. A reorganization of Pinellas’ special education program has not gone as planned. Tampa Bay Times. A child care center that caters to exceptional children reaches a milestone. Florida Times-Union.

Campaigns. PolitiFact crunches numbers on education spending, a subject of many gubernatorial talking points. The wife of a Republican lawmaker challenges the longest-serving member of the Pinellas school board. Tampa Bay Times.

Continue Reading →


FL parents speaking up for special needs scholarship accounts

Ashli McCall of Tallahassee speaks with the Florida Channel about how the new PLSA will benefit her son Emmil who has been diagnosed with Autism.

Ashli McCall of Tallahassee speaks with the Florida Channel about how the new PLSA will benefit her son Emmil who has been diagnosed with Autism.

The Florida teachers union got a lot of ink this week after it filed suit against SB 850, the bill that created a new scholarship accounts program for students with special needs. No surprise there. But a good bit of the coverage also featured something often missing in stories about parental choice.

Actual parents.

From across the state, parents of students with significant special needs are weighing in on behalf of the new Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts, which some have likened to manna from heaven and winning the lottery. And thanks to some fair reporting, readers and viewers from across the state are seeing and hearing their stories.

For example, from the Tampa Tribune:

It’s just a phenomenal opportunity,” said John Kurnik of Tampa, who hopes to open an account for his son John, who is home-schooled and has autism. “We haven’t had a whole lot of luck with services for John. The resources we have as home-school families aren’t that plentiful.

And from WEAR TV in Pensacola:

Alisha Sloan of Pensacola is applying for her son Christopher, who is living with autism. “To hear about this scholarship was very exciting to us, because with Christopher, you know, there are different things that you need, software, adaptive curriculum, different therapies that would definitely help in taking him out and homeschooling him.

And from the Florida Times Union in Jacksonville:

Some parents, such as Northside resident Melissa Ward, fear the lawsuit’s effect on students, especially students with special needs.

She home-schools Ethan, her 8-year-old third-grader, who has cerebral palsy. The family of four children has thousands of dollars in medical and therapy debts already, she said, so she rations his physical, occupational and speech therapy, paying for only one therapy at a time over several months, even though he needs them all.

She hopes the new personal learning scholarship program will help her afford more therapy and a math tutor.

“If these programs … are going to provide services to people that need help, I don’t see why getting bogged down in a bureaucratic mess would be beneficial to anyone,” she said.

“You need to look at what the purposes of the program are and what they can accomplish. I hope that people would not want to deny children what they need.”

Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog, is among the organizations authorized to administer PLSAs. As the lawsuit plays out, don’t be surprised if more parents speak up for the scholarship accounts. In the meantime, here are more examples of others who already have: First Coast News in JacksonvilleWCJB in GainesvilleNBC-2 in Fort MyersThe Florida Channel in Tallahassee.

A mom speaks to FCN about how PLSAs can help her son.

Melissa, a Jacksonville mom, speaks to FCN about how PLSAs can help her son Ethan.


A Gainesville mom speaks with TV 20 News about how the PLSA will help her son who has Down syndrome.

Barbara, a mom in Gainesville, speaks with TV 20 News about how the PLSA will help her son who has Down syndrome.


The FEA is suing to stop the new PLSA but Aleta says she needs the scholarship to help her child.

Ashli McCall of Tallahassee speaks with the Florida Channel about how the new PLSA will benefit her son Emmil who has been diagnosed with Autism.

Ashli McCall of Tallahassee speaks with the Florida Channel about how the new PLSA will benefit her son Emmil who has been diagnosed with Autism.



Alisha of Pensacola speaks with WEAR TV about a new scholarship that will benefit her son.


It’s opening day for new parental choice program in Florida

One parent told us it was a blessing. Another said it was like winning the lottery. Another said she and her son, an eighth-grader with autism, had “finally won.”

plsa-header_july14Today marks the start of a new K-12 scholarship program in Florida and maybe even a new era in parental choice – a shift from simply giving parents the power to choose from amongst schools to something more personal and far-reaching. The early reaction from parents suggests it couldn’t have happened soon enough, and to a more deserving group.

“This scholarship will make all the difference in the world,” said Dorothy Famiano of Brooksville, who has two eligible children – Nicholas, who has Spina bifida, and Danielle, who has been diagnosed with autism.

Starting at 9 a.m., Famiano and other parents of children with significant special needs including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy can apply for Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. PLSAs will allow parents to use the money to choose from a variety of educational options – not just tuition and fees at private schools, but therapists, specialists, tutors, curricula and materials, even contributions to a prepaid college fund.

The program reflects the obvious benefits of tailoring a child’s education to his or her specific needs; the explosion in educational options that makes customization more possible and fine-tuned; and the sensibility of giving parents the power to make those choices. But don’t take our word for it.

Michele Kaplan of Coral Gables said a scholarship account will be a game changer for her son, Matthew, 9, who has a dual diagnosis of autism and Fragile X syndrome. Continue Reading →


Why don’t states work together on new digital learning options?

Leading in an Era of Change

A new report says the time has come for states to work together to manage the mix of new options that could soon be available to students through digital learning.

The report by Digital Learning Now calls on state policymakers to “formalize the establishment of a multi-state network, focused on Course Access programs.”

“Course choice” or “course access” is the next wave in educational choice. In Florida, for example, it won’t be long before students who can’t take, say, a physics or calculus course at their local high school can browse an online course catalog, find a class that works for them, and enroll.

Some might already be able to do that with courses available through Florida Virtual School or a virtual program run by their district. But  the state Department of Education is developing an online course catalog that will allow them to choose from a wider range of options. Due to legislative changes approved in 2013, courses offered in other school districts could also be on the menu. And still other new providers could soon start offering classes through the state’s nascent course choice system.

Florida isn’t alone. States are developing new digital learning programs that expand education options in several ways, notes the report by Digital Learning Now (an effort of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is chaired by former Gov. Jeb Bush).  As they do so, they can create new entrepreneurial opportunities for teachers, expand systems that allow students to learn at their own pace, and give school districts a new way to grow enrollment by attracting students outside their geographic boundaries.

Digital learning advocates have started to coalesce around the term “course access.” Only about half of U.S. high schools offer calculus, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Education, and less than two thirds offer physics. If they’re managed properly, and made accessible to students who need them the most, new digital learning policies have the potential to allow students to take courses that aren’t available on their physical campuses.

The DLN report tries to push the discussion a step further. If blurring geographic boundaries between school districts can expand the number of options available, why not allow the programs to cross state lines too? Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charters, teachers, personal learning accounts and more

Personal learning accounts. The new scholarship option will help special needs children, a parent writes in the Orlando Sentinel. A Florida Channel news brief covers the opening of applications for the scholarship accounts, as well as the recently announced lawsuit challenging SB 850.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A rural charter in Franklin County makes another A in the latest round of school grades. The Times. The application for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base will be re-submitted, a Charter Schools USA executive writes in the Tampa Tribune, which adds coverage here. Another CUSA official writes  in the Orlando Sentinel that improving school grades show charter schools can succeed.

Campaigns. Charter school funding comes up in a forum for Palm Beach County school board candidates. Palm Beach Post. An Orange County group backs a pending sales tax referendum that would fund facilities. Orlando Sentinel. School board candidates in Sarasota debate their district’s tax referendum. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Open enrollment. The Marion County school board unanimously backs district-wide open enrollment. Ocala Star-Banner.

Advanced Placement. Scores are up in Hernando. Tampa Bay Times.

Enrollment. A historic Orlando high school struggles to attract students. Orlando Sentinel.

Continue Reading →