University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Arkansas’ Open-Enrollment Charter School Student Scores

In The View from the OEP on October 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm

It’s been twenty-five years since the first charter school opened in Minnesota. Since then, 41 states have enacted laws permitting these public schools of choice to operate within their state boundaries. Each state’s governance of these schools is unique. More importantly, each individual charter school has unique properties based on whatever model was employed when developing and ultimately operating the school. As such, there is no such thing as “the charter school model” or for that matter “the charter school.”

However, these schools are permitted to operate beyond the traditional public school boundaries (geographically and administratively) and have garnered interest from the education research community…and this interest does not escape that community here in the Natural State. Therefore, today we are releasing a new policy brief highlighting student achievement in Arkansas’ nineteen open-enrollment charter schools.

In this policy brief, we compare the achievement in each open-enrollment charter school in Arkansas to that of the traditional public school feeder district(s) from where the charter school likely draws the majority of its students. Since there are some areas of the state with a concentration of charter schools (i.e., Little Rock area, Northwest Arkansas), there are some cases where we compare multiple charter schools to district – or  metropolitan area – averages.

Overall, Arkansas’ open-enrollment charter schools are mixed in their achievement levels during the 2011-12 school year. At the elementary and middle school level, Benton County School of the Arts, Haas Hall Academy, LISA Academy and LISA Academy North stand out above the state averages. Academics Plus, eStem, and Jacksonville Lighthouse all performed above their respective local district averages. Of the schools that serve higher populations of lower-income students, KIPP Delta Charter Schools stand out. Pine Bluff Lighthouse Charter School was in its first year during the 2011-12 school year; so it will be important to watch the school as it grows, as the first year of a school creates unique challenges. You can read about more charter school performance in the policy brief!

To be clear, this policy brief only provides a snapshot and not a rigorous evaluation of any particular charter school. In fact, to truly assess the performance of a given charter school, school leaders and policy makers must systematically examine the growth of individual students over multiple academic years (a true ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison). Nevertheless, this brief does present a meaningful picture of the current achievement levels of students in charter schools across the state of Arkansas.

Moreover, this information is timely; next week, on Thursday November 1st at 9:00 AM, the State Board of Education will be holding charter school hearings for six newly proposed charter schools that hope to begin operating in Arkansas in the 2012-13 academic year. We have linked the State Board Meeting Agenda here if you would like to read about these proposed charter schools. Be sure to check back with the OEP Blog after the meeting for a recap on these hearings.

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