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October 22, 2014

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Nevada students in charter schools shortchanged on learning time, study shows

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Christopher DeVargas

Kindergartners at Explore Knowledge Academy use Apple iPads during class to enhance their learning experience. Thursday Feb. 16, 2012.

Charter schools

Charter schools are public schools that operate under a contract from either the state or the local school district and use innovative techniques and curricula to teach students.

As taxpayer-funded schools, charter schools do not charge tuition and are open to any student in a school district.

Charter schools receive the same per-pupil funding as traditional public schools. However, unlike traditional public schools, charter schools do not receive public money for facilities.

Nevada currently has 31 charter schools sponsored by the state and local school districts. The Clark County School District, which oversees seven charter schools, has the fastest-growing charter school enrollment in the country.

The average school rating for Nevada charter schools is three stars.

Since the last CREDO report in 2009, charter school enrollment grew by 80 percent to 2.3 million students nationally.

There are more than 6,000 charter schools in 42 states and Washington, D.C. Charter schools now serve about 4 percent of the nation's public school students.

In response to this growth and interest in charter schools, many states are beefing up their charter school laws. Some are turning to charters as school "turnaround" solutions, closing failing public schools in New Orleans and Memphis and reopening them as charters.

Nevada's charter school students lose between six and seven months of learning each year compared with their traditional public school counterparts, according to a Stanford University study released Tuesday.

The National Charter School Study, published by Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, looked at the academic performance of charter school students in New York City, Washington, D.C., and 25 states — including Nevada.

Charter schools in Nevada had the lowest test scores among the 5,000 charter schools surveyed nationally.

Nevada charter school students are losing a whopping 115 days of learning in reading and 137 days of learning in math each school year, according to the CREDO report. The average school year has 180 days.

This means that Nevada's charter school students are falling behind six to seven months each year, according to the report. “States like Nevada show that charter schools are not a guaranteed solution to educational challenges,” the report stated.

"We clearly have work to do," said Steve Canavero, director of the Nevada Public Charter School Authority.

•••

In its first national charter school report released in 2009, CREDO found that charter school students were falling behind their traditional public school peers.

CREDO's 2013 study, which is an update and expansion of its landmark 2009 report, found slight improvements in the overall performance of charter schools, although results varied widely from state to state.

"We found there has been a slow and steady progress since 2009," said CREDO Director Margaret Raymond in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

Nationally, charter school students gained seven days of learning in reading over their traditional public school counterparts. In math, charter schools improved to the point where there was no difference in test scores.

Furthermore, CREDO found that more charter schools were doing better than regular public schools when it came to standardized test scores, particularly for students from minority and impoverished backgrounds.

Nearly a third — 29 percent — of charter schools do better than regular public schools on standardized tests. A little less than a third — 31 percent — do significantly worse and 40 percent of charter schools showed no difference.

Black students, students in poverty and English-language learners benefit the most from attending charter schools, according to the CREDO study.

Black students from low-income families gained an extra month of learning in math and reading while Hispanic, English-language learners gained 50 additional days of learning in both subjects.

(White and Asian students, however, do not benefit from attending charter schools, and in some cases actually lose days of learning, according to the CREDO report.)

John Hawk, president of the Charter School Association of Nevada, said the majority of students enrolled in the state's charter schools come from historically underserved backgrounds.

"Charter schools offer a more intimate and hands-on learning that benefits (minority) students," Hawk said.

•••

These gains, however, were not evident in all states. CREDO's charter school results varied drastically from state to state.

Charter schools in states such as Louisiana, Michigan, Rhode Island and Tennessee made steady improvements, according to the CREDO study.

However, charter schools in states such as Arkansas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah were not performing well, according to the report.

While researchers could not explain why there were wide differences in performance from state to state (which requires more research), they said some states have adopted policies that demand higher-performing charter schools.

"With the right policies and the right political will, you can see improvement in a very short period of time," Raymond said.

Since the 2011 legislative session, Nevada has beefed up its charter school laws, said Daniel Tafoya, the director of the Clark County School District's Office of Charter Schools.

"The Nevada Legislature has defined a charter school framework that is based on national standards," Tafoya said. "We are improving when it comes to the law."

This past legislative session, Nevada adopted new policies that will enable more charter schools to be formed and to hold these schools more accountable, Canavero said.

Under Gov. Brian Sandoval's urging, the Legislature approved $750,000 in funding for a revolving loan account, which fledgling charter schools may use as start-up money for facilities, textbooks and supplies. State lawmakers also approved allowing businesses to help charter schools issue bonds for school facilities.

Assembly Bill 205 established a performance-based contract for charter schools, which proponents argue will help keep these schools accountable for their academic performance.

In previous years, contracts for charter schools could only be revoked if school officials were found to have mismanaged the school financially or in the reporting of school data.

However, with the passage of AB205, charter schools will be held accountable for their academic performance, in addition to their financial, organizational and mission-specific goals.

Charters will automatically be revoked if schools are "persistently underperforming." Charter schools with three consecutive years of one-star rating on the Nevada school ranking system will be forced to automatically close.

In the wake of the CREDO report, charter school officials acknowledged that the state will need to improve. The new policies will help, Hawk said.

"We're gaining ground when it comes to our policies," he said. "But we still have a long way to go."

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  1. This study is stating the obvious, but falls short on identifying the reasons as to why Nevada students fail to perform well in charter schools! Readers will have an awful time trying to read between the "code" being used here.

    For those who have no idea on the difference here is some insight. Typically in charter schools, students are given time to explore, which takes times. They have opportunities to find out why something works or doesn't work, whereas public schools are pushed for time and very little of that goes on. So education tends to be deeper, the ol "inch wide-mile deep" theory and practice, versus public schools' "inch deep-mile wide" analogy.

    This article is full of "code" that the reader is NOT privy to, such as, "In the wake of the CREDO report, charter school officials acknowledged that the state will need to improve. The new policies will help, Hawk said." IMPROVE HOW????

    More "code" continues with, as this article states, "Charter schools offer a more intimate and hands-on learning that benefits (minority) students," Hawk said."

    If we know this to be true, then it only makes sense to utilize public school sites in select areas in a way that encourages such learning, alternatively as Magnet Schools. I have never heard one bad thing about the Magnet School program here in Clark County, so why aren't we, or the school district expanding that program???

    It is true, that charter schools have been running feral for years, with minimal accountability. Transferability of course credits has been a problem for years. They can pick and choose their students, and have far more stricter rules to weed out discipline and low academically performing problems BEFORE high stakes testing. So statistics tend to be a bit "fishy" for starters.

    If the school district wants to create an enhanced learning environment where students come to school motivated to learn, then they need to open up more MAGNET SCHOOLS! As it is, there are waiting lists at the ones they already have, so that should confirm the need for more. Just saying here....

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  2. Clark County has 22 charters. Most are failing or have failed recently. Only a few have proven successful. Most are not placed in areas that would help students of poverty. Charters in Vegas appear to be segregating by race, economics, and religion. It was very disheartening to attend a school board meeting and hear that CCSD would have met its budget if it did not have to support its charters. It is similarly disheartening to sit in school board meetings when six year contracts for failing charters are renewed. We use our limited resources to renew failing charters? Failing segregated charters? We fail to fund our schools so parents flee our public schools - into deregulated systems? I ask this question - if private schools are so wonderful - why do they need public funds? Why label a private school idea a "charter" and force the tax payer to pay for a degregulated personal preference? Please pay for your preferences and private school ideas. Nevada has enough public school problems without having to fund charters too.

  3. Charter Schools are nothing but a front for making money off of taxpayers and/or a hidden agenda. Can anyone tell me why a Turkish Imam is allowed to have Charter Schools in the Untied States? Look up the "Gulen Movement" and you will be shocked as to why over 100 these Charter Schools even exists. We have one right here in Las Vegas. If you peel the onion back a little you will find out Family A owns the land under the Charter School building. Husband A owns the building. Wife A owns the Charter School's management business. (Yes folks, a separate company does all the HR, payroll, hiring of teachers NOT the principal.) Husband A goes to church with the Principal. The Principal 's wife is the secretary. Maybe we should hire Cousin A to teach? After all she has a Real Estate license. (Don't need a teaching degree to teach at a Charter School.) Let's promise these parents the moon, the stars, and the smallest class sizes just to get them hooked. Charter Schools need as many students as they can because through our tax dollars (public school students) they need to pay for all their cronies property taxes, rent, and all of their salaries. I have some friends that were "duped" into having their kids going to a Charter School and it turned out all their favorite teachers were either fired or quit during the school year. Many of those "small " class sizes are the same as public school class sizes. No computers and no school lunch program. But they have uniforms and all the parents believe its a great thing. Not all Charter Schools are like this but the majority of them fail. Why is that?