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Flawed research funded by The Texas Business and Education Coalition

11.17.11
Flawed research funded by The Texas Business and Education Coalition

A letter from David Dunn to TBEC

On behalf of the over 390 Texas charter school members educating more than 100,000 students, the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) believes the recent report, “Charter Schools in Texas: Student Achievement, Enrollment, Characteristics, Attrition, and Disappearance,” written by Ed Fuller and funded by your organization, sends the education reform movement backwards, instead of driving thoughtful solutions.
Having spoken to TBEC this year, I know your organization has a longstanding commitment to developing solid education policy. You could have chosen any number of impartial researchers from across the country to fairly analyze progress in the charter school movement in Texas, but unfortunately you chose Dr. Fuller who has a longstanding public record of bias against charter schools. Last spring as his attrition research was circulating in the press with stale anti-charter conclusions, TCSA staff asked to meet with him in a constructive manner; he denied our repeated requests to discuss student achievement, attrition, and efficiency � areas we all want to improve in public education.
A number of assumptions made in this report need further investigation before they can be seen as trends or even appropriate findings. Regarding student achievement, Dr. Fuller highlights dated national reports. In Texas, charter schools outperform traditional school districts in standard accountability from 6th-12th grade in reading, math, science and social studies. (TEA 2010 Comprehensive Annual Report on Texas Public Schools)
Dr. Fuller makes the claim that charters are skimming the top-notch public school students because they enroll fewer bilingual/ESL and special education students. The percentage difference in both cases is around 2%, an amount not statistically significant enough to draw vast conclusions regarding the direction of a movement. The truth is, 70 percent of students in charter schools are economically disadvantaged, that’s 12 percent more than the traditional school districts. 50 percent of the students enrolled in the public charter schools are Hispanic and over 25 percent are African American. Charter schools are increasingly diverse geographically as well, making the allegation that charter schools cream the best students an old and weak argument. Charter schools are open enrollment public schools that take every student.
The research presented on attrition is particularly biased as it relates to “disappearance.” Low-income students in all public schools are subject to high mobility rates, an issue we should tackle head-on. Dr. Fuller’s research suggests that the only reason a child would leave a charter school would be school dissatisfaction, when in fact there are many other life circumstances that play into a decision to leave a particular area. Nevertheless, a thoughtful data dive around attrition and mobility are already underway at the Texas Charter Schools Association to identify areas for improvement.
Dr. Fuller’s conclusion that charter schools only appear to be more efficient is countered by the Texas Comptroller’s report that confirms a quarter of the State’s most efficient schools are in fact charter schools. Dr. Fuller continues by insinuating the charter school waiting list is “deceiving.” TCSA staff compiled that report, and we’d happy to share the excel spreadsheet with you that totals 56,000 students on charter school waiting lists. That number is a low estimate, as we couldn’t reach all of our members over the phone and every charter school across the state is not a member.
 
Dr. Fuller sums up his report by saying, “there is little evidence that Texas needs to invest in the expansion of charter schools.” Dr. Fuller is only reading his own research; 59% of Texans want the state cap on charter schools lifted so there is more choice in public schools. A recent poll shows good news across the state regarding public support for charter schools. The survey, done by WPA Opinion Research on behalf of the Texas Charter Schools Association, shows strong support for creating more public charter schools and ensuring they receive the same funding as traditional school districts. Overall, the favorability ratings for charters grew by 12% over the last year. We think this is impressive, given charter schools educate nearly 120,000 students in Texas which is less than 3% of the total student population. The poll of 500 randomly sampled likely voters was conducted in Central Texas, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley.
This is a remarkable time in the charter school movement here in Texas – both student demand and public support for charter schools are now at their highest statewide levels since they were created in 1995 by the Texas legislature.
Public charter schools play a critical role in Texas’ public education system and we thank you for your leadership in exploring the topic, but urge you not to present this research as a definitive representation of Texas charter schools. We look forward to working with you to promote effective charter schools and improving the public education dialogue in Texas. Part of this improvement is correcting the record about charter schools when we see it go so far off the mark.
At your convenience, we would like to arrange a tour of your local charter schools. I can be reached at 512.584.8272.
Sincerely,
David Dunn, Executive Director Texas Charter Schools Association