WMU News

WMU researcher will evaluate Pennsylvania charter schools

June 18, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- A Western Michigan University researcher who has helped evaluate more than 10 percent of the nation's charter schools has been selected to examine Pennsylvania's young charter school system.

Dr. Gary Miron, principal research associate in WMU's famed Evaluation Center, has been awarded $174,958 by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to be the project director of a 17-month study of the 31 charter schools that were operating in that state in the 1998-99 school year. Evaluation work at the schools began in late May.

Pennsylvania will likely have 48 charter public schools enrolling more than 12,000 students in operation this fall. The Pennsylvania schools are chartered by local school districts in a structure set by state legislation passed in 1997. That same legislation mandated a thorough evaluation of the schools after five years to determine how well the schools' operation match the intent of the law. The WMU contract, awarded just two years into the period, is designed to provide a model for future researchers to use in evaluating the schools as well as provide critical early data to school administrators as the schools develop.

Miron and his team will evaluate the schools' success in fostering improved pupil learning and increased learning opportunities; implementing innovative teaching methods; offering new professional opportunities for teachers; and increasing the range of school choice within public school systems. They also will examine school accountability.

"We'll be collecting school-based data from all 31 charter schools," says Miron of the project. "We'll be doing comparisons within the school and also with each school's host district. And as our study progresses, we'll be providing feedback to the schools involved that will help them make improvements."

Miron was part of a team of WMU evaluators that recently conducted a year-long evaluation of 51 of Michigan's more than 100 charter schools. Working in tandem with a private consulting firm that evaluated the rest of Michigan's more than 100 charter schools, Miron and his colleagues completed a study that was commissioned by the Michigan Department of Education. Both portions of the study were conducted using a framework developed by Dr. Jerry Horn, another principal researcher with WMU's Evaluation Center and a leader on the University's charter school evaluation team.

Miron also is part of an evaluation team that has been conducting evaluations of Connecticut's
16 charter schools since 1997. The purpose of that study, like the Pennsylvania study, is to help the
schools during their formative years and provide feedback that will lead to success.

Combined, the Michigan and Connecticut charter school totals comprise just over 10 percent of the nation's 1,205 charter schools. Michigan, which is now up to 138 charter schools, ranks third behind Arizona and California in the number of schools it has chartered.

Miron says that the challenge in evaluating charter schools is securing reliable information about those schools in what he calls a "polarized and politicized reform atmosphere."

"That's why we use a wide variety of sources and a number of tools as we gather information to ensure a complete and accurate picture of each school," he says.

Sources include those directly involved with the school as well as members of the surrounding community, the host school district and the state education community.

The tools used in all three statewide studies include written surveys of school staff, students and parents; interviews; focus groups; and site visits. In addition, the results of any standardized tests administered also are part of the mix.

Of particular value to both evaluators and the schools they are studying, Miron notes, is the extensive reporting back to the schools of both survey results and the answers to a series of open-ended questions that are a part of all surveys administered. Assured anonymity, respondents often provide frank comments that detail situations or observations that the hard data might not reflect.

Those comments are transcribed in their entirety and go back to the schools for administrators to consider in making changes or improvements or in conducting their own self-evaluations.

WMU's Evaluation Center enjoys an international reputation in the fields of school, program and personnel evaluation. The center has attracted a $5.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to improve the performance and evaluation of teachers and administrators in America's schools. Center researchers also have been involved in personnel evaluation for the U.S. Marine Corps, the examination of a low-income housing project in the Philippines, a study of the entry year teaching program in Ohio, an evaluation of a nationwide environmental education project sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and work for the World Bank.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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