Some key legal and policy differences linger between charters and traditional schools, but much has changed since Idaho established charter schools in 1998, according to a study released Monday.
The state Office of Performance Evaluations released the 75-page report, which members of the bipartisan Joint Legislative Oversight Committee requested last year.
“As public education policies have changed, we found that the elements intended to distinguish charter schools are no longer distinct,” report authors Hannah Crumrine and Amy Lorenzo wrote in their executive summary.
When it comes to the burring of distinctions, Crumrine and Lorenzo said charter schools and traditional schools offer students opportunities for specialized course work, different instruction methods and online courses.
Although it offered policy insight, the report did not attempt to study the effectiveness of charter schools. At the committee’s request, researchers did not look at student achievement, so the study did not contrast test scores or other results. The report suggested a followup study using student achievement could be useful, but committee members voted unanimously Monday to close the report and end the study — at least for now.
In dissecting student demographics, researchers found that charter schools – on average – are slightly less ethnically diverse and have slightly lower poverty rates.
The poverty rate within charters was 46 percent, versus 50 percent for traditional districts. Researchers also reported that 87 percent of charter schools’ population was white, compared to 78 percent of school districts.
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Overall, 43 charter schools in Idaho serve about 18,000 students combined. Charter school enrollment represents about 6 percent of Idaho K-12 students – with charters experiencing increased enrollment that has roughly doubled over the past five years.
Some committee members, such as Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, praised the report. Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Winder, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna voiced criticism.
Luna, Idaho Public Charter School Commission Director Tamara Baysinger and others wrote responses to the study, which were included at the end of the report.
“I believe opinion and feedback have a place in research; however, by using open-ended surveys, rather than scientific methods, this report dealt more with perception than fact,” Luna wrote.
The OPE is the same oversight group that released a study in January detailing dissatisfaction among teachers in Idaho.