We are at a turning point in American education. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated the inequities that students have faced for decades. Now more than ever, we need to ensure that all of our young people — regardless of where they live or what background they come from — have access to an excellent public education.
A new report from Boise State University’s Idaho Policy Institute (IPI) indicates that public charter schools are helping fulfill that promise for our students. Through analyses of standardized test data, as well as surveys of parents and teachers from charter schools receiving federal Charter School Program support, IPI found that these schools — which are tuition-free and have no admission requirements — are helping students meet state achievement and growth targets, with particularly strong results among students from historically underserved populations.
The IPI report is part of a multi-year evaluation of schools in Idaho’s Communities of Excellence (COE) consortium, in which Bluum is a key participant. In 2018, the COE received a five-year $22 million grant from the federal government’s Charter Schools Program (CSP), with the aim of supporting growing charter schools to serve more students, especially rural and economically disadvantaged students. As part of this process, IPI was chosen to evaluate the performance of the five public charter schools covered in the first round of the CSP grant.
With this new report, IPI has established a baseline for how these schools were already performing in the 2018-19 school year, before the grant money was administered. Looking at standardized test data from the Idaho State Department of Education, IPI found that:
- For students meeting or exceeding state achievement targets, public charter schools exceeded the Idaho state average by 8 percentage points in English Language Arts and nearly 7 percentage points in math.
- For students meeting or exceeding state growth targets, public charter schools exceeded the Idaho state average by nearly 6 percentage points in ELA and nearly 7 percentage points in math.
IPI also reported strong impacts among certain subgroups of students. Among students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, those enrolled in public charter schools met or exceeded their state achievement and growth goals at higher rates than the Idaho state average, in both ELA and math. The same pattern was true for Hispanic/Latinx students. English Language Learners at public charter schools also outperformed the state average when it came to overall achievement, and matched or exceeded the state average in growth.
In addition to analyzing students’ academic performance, IPI utilized surveys conducted by the FDR Research Group to assess parent and teacher perceptions of charter school quality. In these surveys, charter school parents generally expressed satisfaction with their children’s new public charter schools. A significant majority of charter school parents said that they would recommend their child’s school to other parents; that their child is happy going to school on a day-to-day basis; that they perceive their child learning a lot; and that they plan to keep their child enrolled for the following year.
At Bluum, we are heartened to see these results. This is yet more evidence to support charter schools as part of Idaho’s growing public school sector, and we anticipate that future IPI assessments of these schools over the five years of the CSP grant will continue to show promising results. In particular, we are glad to see that charter schools are increasing outcomes among Hispanic/Latinx students, those from low-income backgrounds, and those learning English as a second language.
The charter school bargain is freedom in exchange for accountability. Charter schools are given more flexibility and autonomy than is traditional for public schools, and in exchange they must demonstrate that they are improving student outcomes. The IPI report, though preliminary, adds to the body of research showing that this bargain is paying off for Idaho families and students.
When we put power and agency into educators’ hands, we can provide parents with strong public school options to help set their children up for success in the long run. As we begin to re-envision what school looks like for students in Idaho, and across the country, results like these show that charter schools are worth supporting and evaluating.