DPI Data Shows That Independent Charter Schools Outperform Traditional MPS Schools on the WKCE

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

Last week, we examined the population of students by  independent 2R charter schools in Milwaukee and Racine. State-collected figures suggest that these schools educate a higher percentage of low-income students than regular public schools in Milwaukee.

A further look into DPI’s numbers reveals an impressive fact about students in these schools – the majority of them are outperforming their MPS counterparts when it comes to reading skills on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE).

Twelve schools have reported data from 2010’s round of WKCE testing. Eleven of these schools offered fourth grade classwork for students. Of these 11 schools, nine posted higher reading results when it come to Wisconsin’s standardized test than the citywide average.

The WKCE isn’t a perfect measure by any means. In fact, it tells us little outside of raw scores and fails to create meaningful, value-added data that can be applied to classrooms or compared across states. However, for the case, it will have to do, as it does provide a solid comparison point between schools within the same districts. In 2010, the Wisconsin Student Assessment System (WSAS) and the WAASwD – an alternate assessment for students with disabilities – supplemented the WKCE.

The WKCE has four different categories for scoring – minimum performing, basic, proficient, and advanced. Each measures the level of mastery that a student shows on the comprehensive tests.

In Milwaukee, the citywide public school average for students scoring “basic” or above amongst fourth graders was 88.9 percent. Nine schools, including six that educate a greater concentration of economically disadvantaged students than the MPS average, posted higher scores than this average.

The public school average for students rating “proficient” or better in fourth grade was 62.3 percent. Eight independent 2R charter schools bested this mark. Five of these schools educated a greater percentage of low-income students than the average MPS classroom. This suggests that students in independent charter schools – charter schools that are authorized by either the city of Milwaukee or local higher education powers – are more likely to have a stronger grip on reading concepts beyond rudimentary skills.

These schools, on average, had nearly 10 percent more students scoring at “proficient” or better when it came to fourth grade reading. Nearly four percent more students scored “basic” or above.

Tenor High School, the only 2R charter high school with recorded data, also outperformed the MPS standard in literacy in 2010. As a whole, non-instrumentality schools were nearly seven percent better when it came to students scoring proficient or advanced on these tests. They were nearly two percent better when expanding the metric to include pupils that rated basic and better.

This DPI data suggests that not only are these schools educating more low-income students than the city’s regular public institutions, but the majority of these charter schools are also performing better when it comes to the WKCE.

EDIT: This table previously had used an incorrect student count to determine how many students in these charter schools had taken the WKCE in 2010-2011. The article has been updated to reflect the accurate counts, as provided by the Department of Public Instruction (12/14/2011).

  • Charter Schools are not the answer. Please look at the link between poverty and education:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/opinion/the-unaddressed-link-between-poverty-and-education.html?_r=3&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=thab1

    One way to reduce the effect of poverty on educational outcomes is to stop funding programs that have demonstrated a pattern of facilitating the concentration of poverty. Here I am specifically referring to SEWRPC\’s disproportionate representation of suburbs over the city of Milwaukee proper, and the effect that has on locating development that drives more affluent families further and further away from where the poverty is concentrated.

  • Interesting stuff.

    It is worth checking out the latest School Choice Demonstration Project report on charter schools. It reached a conclusion consistent with yours. (see: http://www.uaedreform.org/SCDP/Milwaukee_Eval/Report_25.pdf)

    The money-quote:

    \”Based on three years of student achievement growth, charter school students outperformed MPS students in both reading and mathematics after controlling for baseline achievement and other student characteristics. These results were statistically significant with more than 99 percent confidence.\”

  • MacIver Institute

    For some students charter schools may not be THE answer. But they are AN answer to a problem that has no panacea.

    More forms of education are needed to fit a rapidly evolving student base. Traditional public schools cannot keep pace with the changing tides of the American public. More options for students mean more environments for families. This means public schools, private schools, charter schools, homeschooling, virtual schools – all need to be available options in the quest to create the best match for students.

    When the rigid structure of the traditional neighborhood public school can\’t hold up to this flexibility, that\’s where other options come into play. There is no one-size-fits-all education. However, what we do know is that these independent charter schools not only educate more low-income students in Milwaukee than regular MPS entities, but they also *do a better job of it*. They are working for some students – and they miss out on the opportunity to work for hundreds more that are left on on waiting lists and falling outside of lottery drawings every year. To not explore options to expand a program that works – while skirting by with considerably less funding than their counterparts – would be irresponsible to students, parents, and Wisconsin as a whole.

  • MacIver Institute

    Also, Matt, I\’d advise you to take a greater look into the very link that you posted.

    \”Since they can’t take on poverty itself, education policy makers should try to provide poor students with the social support and experiences that middle-class students enjoy as a matter of course.

    It can be done. In North Carolina, the two-year-old East Durham Children’s Initiative is one of many efforts around the country to replicate Geoffrey Canada’s well-known successes with the Harlem Children’s Zone.\”

    These programs for success are based on Canada\’s leadership and triumphs in New York. He reached students there in a turn-around program through – you guessed it – charter schools.

  • MacIver Institute

    Matt –

    Please examine your own link more carefully. The programs that you point to that are working – specifically Geoffrey Canady\’s Harlem Children\’s Zone – have very strong ties to the charter school community. In fact, the HCZ – which Ladd suggests her group is trying to emulate because it showed that taking on poverty \”can be done\” is centered around an outreach program and three charter schools!

    This HCZ model is also more commonly embraced at charter schools across the country. Just take a look at the KIPP Academies and their success stories. Or, if you want to stay in Milwaukee, look at St. Marcus (not a charter school, but operating under HCZ hands-on philosophies) in order to see how this can work locally.

    You say that \”charter schools are NOT the answer.\” But then you direct us to an op-ed that suggests that the answer lies in the methods developed in Harlem – where charter schools play a significant role in turning low-income students lives around. You also direct us to methods that are adopted more frequently in charter schools with greater autonomy than in traditional public schools. I think you might be better served actually touring and meeting with the administration, teachers, and students of a public charter school to better understand how these institutions actually work.

  • From the link: \”If some schools can succeed, the argument goes, then it is reasonable to expect all schools to. But close scrutiny of charter school performance has shown that many of the success stories have been limited to particular grades or subjects and may be attributable to substantial outside financing or extraordinarily long working hours on the part of teachers. The evidence does not support the view that the few success stories can be scaled up to address the needs of large populations of disadvantaged students\”

    Let\’s repeat that last sentence:

    \”The evidence does not support the view that the few success stories can be scaled up to address the needs of large populations of disadvantaged students.\”

  • From the link: “If some schools can succeed, the argument goes, then it is reasonable to expect all schools to. But close scrutiny of charter school performance has shown that many of the success stories have been limited to particular grades or subjects and may be attributable to substantial outside financing or extraordinarily long working hours on the part of teachers. The evidence does not support the view that the few success stories can be scaled up to address the needs of large populations of disadvantaged students”

    Let’s repeat that last sentence:

    “The evidence does not support the view that the few success stories can be scaled up to address the needs of large populations of disadvantaged students.”

  • Here\’s where you get off track:

    \”More forms of education are needed to fit a rapidly evolving student base. Traditional public schools cannot keep pace with the changing tides of the American public. \”

    What is \”rapidly evolving\”? It is the increasing concentrations of at-risk youth that is evolving and created the motivation to create charter and voucher schools in the first place.

    And why is this increased concentration occurring? It is transportation and land use policies that promote economic segregation. In many parts of the country, white-middle class suburbs are over represented on Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and poor minority urban areas are under represented. The result is infrastructure policy that favors driving, which in turn widely separates common daily needs. And the poor, a large percentage of whom do not own motor vehicles, are forced to live where there are better transit and walking amenities in order to be able to meet their daily needs.

    Highway expansion projects get an automatic approval, while transit expansion is subject to referenda which are often rejected with the intent to keep the poor out of the suburbs. Urban streetcar lines and light rail systems, which have been shown to promote gentrification, are shot down by the suburbanites who wrongly believe they will never benefit from them. And all the while, the rate of road subsidies climbs, and bus fares are increased to cover road building cost increases, which puts a triple-squeeze on the poor.

  • Elton Burrells

    One research believes these schools can\’t be expanded because the ones with the greatest success stories rely too heavily on extreme efforts from teachers. That sounds like we should be looking into how to derive these kinds of efforts from more teachers. Could union oversight in regular public schools be something that\’s holding that back?

    Additionally, I don\’t know why you\’d want to throw out the baby with the bathwater here. These schools are clearly making a difference. If there is a point of diminishing returns we haven\’t hit it yet. Don\’t we owe it to the children to provide more schools that are giving them a better education until we get evidence that they can\’t address the needs of large populations? The example you cite above is not something that\’s actually happened – it\’s speculation. Why stop if it\’s working?

    It sounds like you are willing to sell out schools that are working with less public funding in your quest to take down highways. Please don\’t drag education into your crusade. You already made it clear that you didn\’t understand the difference between voucher schools and charter schools in previous posts. Please don\’t come in here citing one article and pretend to be an expert.