Ohio’s Troubling Achievement Gap: Charter Schools Make it Worse

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Late last week, the White House put out a report breaking down the state of the American student achievement gap and the news wasn’t great for Ohio. In reading, we had the nation’s ninth highest gap between our highest and lowest performing schools. In math, we had the nation’s second-highest gap, and in graduation rates we had the nation’s fourth largest gap. And while much of this difference can be explained by the relatively high performance of our highest performing schools, the gap is and should be a serious concern for Ohio’s educators, parents and policy makers.

However, what the data used in the report also show is this: Ohio’s charter schools have made the gap worse, not better, because they make up a disproportionate share of the worst performing schools, as measured by the federal data used in the White House report (see “About the Analysis” below).

For example:

  • Despite making up 8% of all Ohio school buildings, charters represent 31% of the worst-performing reading buildings, 13% of the worst-performing math buildings, and 78% of the buildings with the worst graduation rates.
  • Ohio’s achievement gap is 6% bigger in math, 8% bigger in reading and a whopping 23% bigger in graduation rates than they would be if the analysis only included local public schools.
  • And while the state’s achievement gap is still too large, in all three cases, eliminating charters from the calculation drops Ohio’s achievement gap ranking. Math drops from second to fourth greatest. Reading falls from ninth to 11th And the state’s graduation rate gap tumbles from fourth to 14th highest.
  • The achievement gap is greater in charter schools for math than it is in the local public schools
  • The charter school achievement gap is narrower in reading and graduation rates because charters’ highest performers are so low performing overall compared with local public schools. For example, the average graduation rate for the 19 highest-performing charters – defined as those that have greater than 60% graduation rates  (see “About the Analysis” below)– is 65%. Those 19 charters represent 17% of eligible charters. The average rate for the highest performing local schools – 96% of which have graduation rates greater than the 60% threshold – is 91%.

There is work that needs done closing Ohio’s achievement gaps in all schools, no question. But what the federal data clearly show is that charter schools don’t provide an overall solution. In fact, they are part of the problem, especially in graduation rates.

As for the gaps themselves, much of Ohio’s gap problem is driven by our highest scoring local public buildings scoring so well. For example, while our lowest-performing math buildings score an average proficiency rate of 26% – the same as West Virginia – our remaining buildings score a 78% – the nation’s seventh-highest rate and far higher than West Virginia’s 47% – the nation’s fourth-worst showing. So while West Virginia’s gap seems to be much narrower, it’s because the state’s schools perform so much worse overall than Ohio’s do.

So, if there’s a silver lining to the achievement gap report it’s that 95% of our schools are doing a pretty good job. However, we must address the 5% that are struggling mightily by utilizing – and paying for – measures that research shows can help improve student achievement.

Here is how each type of Ohio school building performs, according to the federal data examined for the White House report and analyzed by Innovation Ohio. The numbers are percentages of test takers scoring at the proficient level, or the percentage of eligible students who graduate.

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About the Analysis: The White House report examined data from the 2012-2013 school year located at http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/edfacts/data-files/index.html on the web. Innovation Ohio was able to reproduce the White House calculations using the report’s methodology generally explained in its footnotes.

The White House calculated the achievement gap for reading and math by taking the average proficiency rate of the worst 5% of Title I buildings, then comparing that average with the average of the remaining non-Title I and Title I buildings. Because graduation rate reporting is more spotty, the White House calculated those rates by either doing a similar calculation as the proficiency rates, or taking the average graduation rate for Title I buildings below 60%, then comparing it with the average graduation rates for buildings over 60%. This final method is how Ohio’s graduation calculation appears to have been done because Innovation Ohio was able to duplicate the rates the White House reported using that methodology.

By way of interest, it also appears that while schools with non-numeric proficiency rates in the federal data (for example, “GE95” reported in the data set would mean greater than 95% proficiency. In order to duplicate the White House reported data, Innovation Ohio had to include these non-numerics as the numeric substitute, like the number 95 substituted for “GE95”), they did not do the same for graduation data. So there are, for example, several charter schools with graduation rates listed as less than 5% or less than 10% that don’t appear to be included in the White House’s calculation. If they had been, as they apparently were in the proficiency data, Ohio’s poorest-performing graduation rate would be far lower than the 31% reported.