Press Release

Official NAEP Results on Charter Schools Mirror Earlier Reports' Results

For Release: 

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Leslie Getzinger

Charter schools mostly trail in student achievement when compared to other public schools

Washington, D.C. — The American Federation of Teachers welcomed today's long-delayed official release of the results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2003 pilot study on charter schools students' achievement. At the heart of the results, the study reveals that in most cases, charter school students are not performing as well as other public school students.

"Having this information readily available to parents, teachers and policymakers will help all of us understand how students are doing academically in charter schools across the nation, and will allow us to better evaluate charter school policies," said Antonia Cortese, AFT executive vice president. "In particular, the NAEP results highlight the need to reconsider the NCLB policy option of converting academically struggling public schools into charter schools.”

The NAEP results reaffirm the conclusions drawn from NAEP charter school achievement data unearthed by the AFT in August 2004 – that charter school students often perform worse than other public school students in math and reading. At that time, concerned by repeated delays in releasing the data, AFT researchers conducted an analysis of the NAEP charter school achievement data using the Web-based NAEP Data Tool.  While today’s official NAEP results generally echo the earlier NAEP data, there are slight differences between the NAEP report and the AFT analysis because AFT researchers did not have access to all data, questionnaire answers and additional “data cleaning” information.

There is one notable difference in the AFT analysis of the NAEP data and the data released today. The NAEP study shows that charter schools do not educate a disproportionate percentage of low-income students. The percentage of low-income students in charter schools fell from 54 percent in the NAEP sample reported on by the AFT to 42 percent in the fuller sample – two percentage points lower than the percentage in other public schools. And yet even with a sample that included fewer low-income students, charter schools underperform other public schools at statistically significant levels in both math and reading (when students with special education needs are excluded for reading in the NAEP report), according to both the AFT and NAEP reports.

"Some charter school proponents argue that these lower scores can be attributable to the disproportionate number of low-income students they educate,” said Cortese. “Today’s NAEP report puts the lie to that argument."

The study's results also reaffirm conclusions from the recent SRI International study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education that charter schools are less likely than other public schools to meet state performance standards. The New York Times brought this study to the public’s knowledge through a Freedom of Information Act request.

"The findings in all of these charter school studies give us, for the first time, a comprehensive evaluation of charter school students’ achievement levels, which in many cases are trailing students in other public schools," said Dr. F. Howard Nelson, one of the researchers who conducted the AFT’s analysis of the NAEP charter school achievement data. Other findings of the study, which focuses on fourth-grade charter school students’ scores on the 2003 NAEP assessments, included:* Charter school students did not perform as well as their public school counterparts in mathematics;
  • Charter school students without special education disabilities did not achieve at the same level in reading as similar students in other public schools;
  • Charter school students eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program did not perform as well in reading and math as comparable public school students;
  • Students attending charter schools that were part of a school district scored higher than students in a charter school that was its own district;
  • Students in charter schools that have been in operation for several years performed no better than students in recently opened charter schools; and
  • Students in charter schools with teachers having fewer than four years’ experience performed worse than their public school counterparts who had teachers with the same experience.
The AFT encouraged the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which administers the NAEP assessment, and its governing board, NAGB, which oversees NAEP policy direction, to continue gathering a nationally representative sample of charter school students’ performance and report those results separately from other public schools. "We hope that this study is just the beginning. We need NAEP data on charter schools’ student achievement over many years to ensure that these students are getting the best education possible," said Cortese. "Our nation needs timely and straightforward performance measures to have an open and honest discussion about the future policy direction of charter schools."

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.