Charter Schools Keep Pace, Study Says

Times Staff Writer

Student test scores in California charter schools have kept pace with those in conventional public schools over the last five years even though the charter campuses have had fewer credentialed teachers and less public money, according to a Rand Corp. report released on Monday.

The study, mandated by the state Legislature, mirrors findings from other recent reports on California's 400-plus charter schools, which serve about 150,000 students.

Such campuses receive public money but operate free of most government regulations.

"Charter schools may not necessarily be the silver bullet in terms of solving all our education woes, but they seem to be a concept that is worth pursuing," said Rand economist Ron Zimmer, the study's lead author.

Zimmer and other Rand researchers analyzed reading and math test scores, and surveyed principals in charter schools and conventional campuses.

The researchers found that elementary reading scores of charter and non-charter students with similar economic and social backgrounds were virtually identical between 1999 and 2002.

They found that charter schools receive less public funding than conventional schools because they often do not apply for state and federal programs that offer extra money to pay for student transportation and services for low-income pupils.

They also discovered that the majority of charter schools struggle to acquire and finance their facilities.

In terms of achievement, the researchers found that charter schools that start from scratch -- as opposed to those that switch from being conventional campuses -- produce slightly higher average test scores than traditional public schools.

They did not study the possible reasons.

However, charter schools whose students receive a portion of their classes at home or other locations outside traditional classrooms earn significantly lower average test scores.

The Rand findings on resources and achievement resembled conclusions drawn by other researchers from Stanford and UC Berkeley in recent months.

David Rogosa, a Stanford statistician, found that charter and non-charter schools showed comparable improvement between 1999 and 2002, although the gap in test scores -- with conventional schools on top -- remained about the same.

Advocates of charter schools seized on the Rand report as evidence that the campuses are making a difference, especially because they serve a disproportionate number of disadvantaged students.

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