Charter vs. Traditional Public Schools
Education "reformers" claim that charter schools will "fix" the problems of public education. Our analysis suggests that the debate is not over in Collier County, especially at the elementary school level. Charter schools perform as well as other public schools, but not better.
At their best, charter schools diversify and enhance school districts by offering courses in the arts, or technology (see the video to the right).
At their worst, charter schools divert public funds away from non-charter public schools, and resegregate school districts by attracting higher performing students, leaving other schools to struggle with fewer resources.
A Nation-Wide Movement
In Florida, charter schools are held accountable through performance on standardized tests and school grades. We took the 2014-15 FSA test scores and plotted the results in relation to the percentage of English as a Second Language (English Language Learners) and the percentage of lower-income students (estimated by student participation in the free and reduced price lunch program) at each school.
How well are Collier charter schools performing? In the graphs below, the dots above the line represent schools that performed better than other schools in the District. The dots below the line performed less well on the Florida Standards Assessment. The red dots are charter elementary schools.
Collier County charter schools Other CCPS elementary schools District average
Mason Classical Academy (MCA) charter school had the lowest percentage of English Language Learners of any school in District. On the English Language Arts tests (3-5th grade average), MCA students performed as well as, but not better than, other schools with a similar student body composition. Gulf Coast Charter Academy (GCA) and Immokalee Community School (ICS) performed less well than non-charter schools with similar percentages of English Language Learners.
Mason Classical Academy (MCA) charter school students in grades 3-5 underperformed in math. In 2014-15, two non-charter public schools, Sea Gate (SG) and Pelican Marsh (PM) performed better than other schools in the District. The line describes the relationship between the two variables (%English Language Learners and FSA math scores). It doesn't describe how students will perform; only have they did perform in 2014-15.
Mason Classical Academy (MCA) had the fewest lower-income students of any elementary school in the District, as estimated by the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced price lunches. MCA underperformed in math relative to other schools in the District, and Gulf Coast Academy (GCA) performed about as well. The same results were observed in math (see next graph).
The data show the state of schools today, not necessarily how they will be...
America has a huge problem: children of color are more likely to live in poverty, and children whose basic needs aren't being met struggle to learn. The achievement gap between white/non-Asian minority and rich/poor is universally accepted. The gap exists because children who live in poverty struggle to learn compared to children whose basic needs are met. In order to ensure all students are provided access to excellent education, test scores are often analyzed in context of demographic data. As a nation, we have been worked to close the gap since the Reagan administration, and we remain committed to closing the gap.
Points that lie well below the line underperformed in 2014-15 in math relative to other schools in the District. Mason Classical Academy (MCA) performed as well as the District average (50). However, MCA students scored less well than non-charter schools like Sea Gate, Pelican Marsh, and Laurel Oak.
These data are from MCA's first year, and everyone expects this fledgling charter school to continue to improve.
Did you know?
Collier County Public School District has 11 elementary schools with over 90% students coming from lower-income families.
What do these graphs mean in the classroom? A CCPS educator explains why students from lower-income households tend to score lower on tests.
"Poverty GREATLY impacts test scores. The test scores tell nothing of the back story, the figurative blood, sweat and tears or the sheer determination of the migrant families, the children and yes, their schools and teachers to literally work together, to pull them up by their bootstraps. Not because they cannot do it themselves, but because we are educators. And educators work to educate.
When I had a a class with many of my students performing at a 1st or 2nd grade (tops!) level of reading in 4th grade...I had to somehow make-up that ground in reading, writing, math...not to mention science and social studies. And we are not talking 1 or 2 or even 10 students in an entire school...we are talking massive % of the entire school. And why? Because they immigrated here from countries like Mexico and Haiti where they were lucky to have even GONE to school. They did everything they could to get here and were so proud to offer their child a better education. Many had much inferior educations from their prior countries, if they had any education at all. You add in a migrant working condition where upon they leave a few times a year and you have a set-up for...nearly impossible odds for success. But yet, the teachers in these schools DO succeed. Every single day. It just does not necessarily show-up in the test scores."
Teachers assigned to the most difficult classes in the most challenging schools deserve special praise. At most schools in our District, students must learn a new language, and try to learn despite feeling hungry, living with a foster family, feeling unloved, neglected, and sometimes abused. They must work extra hard to catch up with American-born classmates. School staff and tutors help them succeed. The current system ties teachers' salaries - their livelihoods - to test performance. For these and many other reasons, including Florida Superintendents' low confidence in the test itself, test scores need to be removed from evaluations of teacher and school performance.