Nonpartisan group releases study on Florida charter school trends

redefinED staff

A study released last week by the Leroy Collins Institute delivered mixed news about Florida’s charter schools.

On the positive side, the report concludes that charters are as racially diverse as traditional public schools. But, the researchers caution, there is room for improvement in accountability and transparency, and innovation isn’t adequately measured or shared.

Titled “Florida Charter Schools: Not as Good, Or as Bad, as Advertised,” the report draws primarily on Florida data and research but also reviews nationally conducted research. Some notable findings:

·       Florida’s charter schools are not less racially diverse than traditional public schools, but they are less economically diverse.

·       Despite a common misperception, charter schools do not adversely affect the racial and economic segregation of nearby traditional schools.

·       While charter schools were created in part to spur innovation, the schools have not been held accountable for it, there are no metrics to measure it, and there is no infrastructure to share innovative ideas with other schools.

The report notes that while the number of charter schools in Florida has remained fairly stable in recent years, the number of students attending those schools has continued to grow. Approximately 10 percent of Florida students were enrolled in charter schools in 2016 compared with the national average of 6 percent.

More recent data reported in Step Up For Students’ Education Landscape document shows charter schools continue to be Florida’s most popular school choice option, with more than 300,000 students in attendance for the 2018-19 school year, a 6.1 percent increase from the previous year.

Included in the report is the finding, illustrated by the table below, that charter schools have significantly fewer economically disadvantaged students than traditional schools measured by free and reduced-price lunch eligibility, and that this gap has widened over the past 17 years. The table also compares charter and traditional schools by the percentage of economically segregated schools with at least 90 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals. The gap is smaller here, although still statistically significant, the researchers say.

Also included in the institute’s report are recommendations for increased accountability, racial and economic diversity and innovation. Among them is the suggestion that the state revisit the purpose of charter schools, analyze how state policy has evolved, and review how the charter school sector has changed since charter schools were created.

The report additionally suggests the state reaffirm its original commitment to racial diversity in charter schools, adding a goal to diversity of students with varying economic backgrounds, and take a more proactive role in identifying innovative schools and sharing successful practices with both charters and traditional public schools.

Established in 1988, the LeRoy Collins Institute is a nonpartisan, statewide policy organization located at Florida State University.

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