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Alternative Strategies for Identifying High-Performing Charter Schools in Texas

Abstract

The Obama administration\u27s recurring policy emphasis on high-performing charter schools begs the obvious question: how do you identify a high-performing charter school? That is a crucially important policy question because any evaluation strategy that incorrectly identifies charter school performance could have negative effects on the economically and/or academically disadvantaged students who frequently attend charter schools. If low-performing schools are mislabeled and allowed to persist or encouraged to expand, then students may be harmed directly. If high-performing schools are driven from the market by misinformation, then students will lose access to programs and services that can make a difference in their lives. Most of the scholarly analysis to date has focused on comparing the performance of students in charter schools to that of similar students in traditional public schools (TPS). By design, that research measures charter school performance only in relative terms. Charter schools that outperform similarly situated, but low performing, TPSs have positive effects, even if the charter schools are mediocre in an absolute sense. This analysis describes strategies for identifying high-performing charter schools by comparing charter schools with one another. We begin by describing salient characteristics of Texas charter schools. We follow that discussion with a look at how other researchers across the country have compared charter school effectiveness with TPS effectiveness. We then present several metrics that can be used to identify high-performing charter schools. Those metrics are not mutually exclusive—one could easily justify using multiple measures to evaluate school effectiveness—but they are also not equally informative. If the goal is to measure the contributions that schools are making to student knowledge and skills, then a value-added approach like the ones highlighted in this report is clearly superior to a levels-based approach like that taken under the current accountability system

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This paper was published in DigitalCommons@The Texas Medical Center.

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