WMU News

WMU researchers see promise in Connecticut charter schools

March 10, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- From student progress in the classroom to creative school governance, Connecticut's charter schools are making the grade and are among the very best in the nation,

two Western Michigan University researchers have concluded after five years of studying the state's reform movement.

Drs. Gary Miron and Jerry Horn, both principal research associates at WMU's highly regarded Evaluation Center, recently found that Connecticut's charter schools, first launched in 1997, are highly accountable and succeed in offering unique programs that differ from those in neighboring public schools. At the same time, students at the charter schools are quickly closing the gap academically when compared with their peers at traditional public schools.

The researchers began examining Connecticut's charter schools when the first 12 schools opened. Over the years, the number of charter schools grew to 19, but four have since closed and two have been converted to magnet schools.

By comparison, Michigan has more than 180 charter schools and Texas, Arizona and California have even more.

"The very small size of Connecticut's reform suggests that the greatest hope for positive impact will be the examples these schools have set for others, rather than the competitive effect that would put pressure on school districts to improve," Miron says.

The Connecticut findings come as charter schools face intense scrutiny from lawmakers, educators, investors and stakeholders in for-profit education outfits. Nationally, there are more than 2,700 charter schools, but their once-rapid growth has been hampered by shrinking funds, less than satisfactory student performance, political scuffles and a lack of accountability.

"Among charter schools you'll find good ones and poor ones, like any other schools," says Horn. "The charter school movement has been a disappointment to a lot people in terms of not being a silver bullet, but the results from Connecticut show that they can work."

Connecticut's schools have managed to weather the increasingly unfavorable climate of charter school skepticism, largely because the education officials there were very deliberate in their planning and oversight, he says.

"If you establish some solid ground rules, make good decisions about closing poor-performing schools, maintain oversight and keep them small, this is an alternative that has promise," Horn says.

The study, released March 5 by the Connecticut State Department of Education, found:

The charter school student performance was initially lower than the state average and lower than that of students in the host districts on state standardized tests. Now, charter students are performing at levels similar to their host-district peers, but slightly lower than the state average.

In terms of gain scores on the exams, charter school students fare better than those in the host districts.

Compared with results in other states, the Connecticut findings on charter school students' achievement on standardized tests are the most positive that the researchers have found.

Connecticut's demands for accountability are more rigorous than others, and the state uses accountability tools such as annual reports very effectively.

The study comes on the heels of the Center's recently released Pennsylvania charter schools study, which was issued in December. Miron and other Evaluation Center researchers have also been involved with charter school research in three other states--Ohio, Michigan and Illinois--and are at work on a $400,000 nationwide study to identify factors that drive charter school success.

The Evaluation Center is an interdisciplinary university-level research and development unit whose mission is to provide national and international leadership for advancing the theory and practice of evaluation.

An executive summary and the complete text of the report for the Connecticut study as well as for the other state evaluations conducted by The Evaluation Center can be found at the Web site: <www.wmich.edu/evalctr>.

For information, contact Dr. Jerry Horn or Dr. Gary Miron at (269) 387-5898.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
269 387-8400