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On further review, charters’ gains insignificant

On the very day a Senate panel was set to take testimony on an Indiana charter school bill, a Stanford University study declared Indiana charter school students are making “dramatically larger learning gains” than students in the schools they came from.

Just one problem here:

That’s not what the study found.

“I don’t see what the fuss is all about. The actual differences are minute,” said Jonathan Plucker, director of the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University-Bloomington. “The vast majority are fraction of a point different.”

Education researchers typically consider achievement differences of at least 0.2 percentage points to be significant. The Stanford study cites a charter advantage of as little as 0.01 percent.

Plucker said the reported differences between charter students’ test scores and their traditional public school counterparts are so insignificant that if he had interpreted a study’s findings as the Stanford researcher has done, he would be lambasted by peers in education research.

“What should be taken from it is that here’s yet another study showing that charter performance is pretty much the same as other schools,” Plucker said.

That was generally the conclusion of IU’s 2008 study on the effectiveness and efficiency of charter schools in Indiana, and of Stanford’s 2009 national charter school study – done in partnership, interestingly, with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and other charter advocacy groups.

Stanford’s study of Indiana charters was supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, “working to close the achievement gap by … promoting innovations such as charter schools and small schools.”