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Some Delaware charter schools segregated, unequal

April 4, 2007

KALAMAZOO--A final report in a three-year, $150,000 evaluation of Delaware's charter school movement shows the schools have resulted in resegregation and disparities between mostly white and mostly minority charter schools, the Western Michigan University Evaluation Center has found.

The report was presented last week to the Delaware State Board of Education by Dr. Gary Miron, the Evaluation Center's chief of staff and the study's project director. It is one of the most rigorous studies of student achievement in charter schools in the nation.

"The key finding that is relevant for other states is that charter schools overall are working in Delaware, but some are really struggling," Miron says. "And charter schools in Delaware, as in other states, have led to some homogeneous learning environments that are highly segregated by race, class and ability."

Unfortunately, Miron says, the schools serving low-income and/or minority students are struggling in terms of gains on standardized tests, retention of qualified teachers and securing adequate facilities. In part, this is because they are not able to solicit or leverage private funds that could help make up shortfalls in revenues that are critical during the start-up period for new schools.

In essence, the report concludes, Delaware is creating separate, but unequal charter schools.

The Delaware State Board of Education and Delaware Department of Education hired the Evaluation Center in 2003 to assess the state's charter schools and charter school reform efforts from 2003 to 2006. The final report summarizes findings across the three-year evaluation.

In addition to Miron, Anne Cullen and Patricia Farrell, also of the Evaluation Center, and Dr. Brooks Applegate, WMU professor of educational leadership, collaborated on the project and jointly authored the 226-page report.

According to Cullen, who served as project manager, the team found "substantial differences in student demographics," both among charter schools and also between charter schools and surrounding traditional public schools. On the whole, the study finds that traditional public schools have higher percentages of low-income students, students with special education needs and students who have limited English proficiency.

The study also uncovered "extensive differences" in teachers working at charter schools and working conditions at the schools. Some charters had a high proportion of teachers with master's or doctoral degrees, while others had few teachers completing any graduate degree. Working conditions differed dramatically depending on the school. On-site visits revealed some schools with extremely modern facilities and well-equipped school buildings and others that had crowded and run-down facilities.

Teachers' salaries also varied extensively, with some "having mean salaries noticeably higher than the state average and several schools with salaries far below the state average." The average salaries also lagged behind traditional public schools, $42,281 to $52,486, respectively. But this could be explained by "the large difference in educational background and years of experience" between the two teacher groups.

Though the schools have seen gradually decreasing rates of attrition among teachers over the past four years, attrition remains a "serious problem in some schools," the report finds.

As far as academics, the evaluation reveals that charter school students in upper secondary grades were gaining more on the state assessment than their matched peers in traditional public schools. At the elementary school level, most charter school students were losing ground and showing smaller gains on the state assessment than their demographically matched peers in surrounding district schools.

According to Miron, a unique aspect of this evaluation was comparisons that had to be drawn with other states.

"Delaware's charter school law compared very favorably according to a number of critical reviews of state charter school laws," Miron says. "In terms of student achievement, although the results varied by schools, the aggregate results across all Delaware charter schools indicate that this reform has been noticeably more successful than charter school reform in most other states."

The full final report along with an executive summary can be downloaded at www.wmich.edu/evalctr/charter.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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