University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

I Declare! Do We Compare…Against the Tortoise…or the Hare??

In The View from the OEP on January 29, 2013 at 11:28 am

got-choiceIt’s an exciting week in Little Rock for school choice and charter school proponents as a summit with keynote speaker Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) is underway in Little Rock today, hosted by A+ Atkansas. We’re certain that in addition to these charter and choice advocates, those who oppose such education measures will also cast a keen ear toward the information being delivered. We can only hope that a good discussion/debate with knowledge gained all around is the result.

To accompany all the choice and charters talk, today we are releasing a new OEP policy brief on Arkansas charter school performance that expands upon an earlier brief released last fall. For example, the earlier brief was a snapshot of how Arkansas charter schools were performing shortly after the release of the statewide test scores. However, today’s release is more in depth, looking not only at a similar “point-in-time” snapshot…but also at growth over time.

We, like many others, believe that the most important part of the evaluation process is using the right measures as your launching point – not only do we want to make “apples to apples” comparisons, we want to make sure we know what an apple is!

As we take a fresh look at charter schools, our new policy brief tries to take the best of the most popular types of evaluation: current performance versus growth over time.  Let’s consider this the Tortoise v. the Hare.  The Hare is similar to current school performance in that a school can be at any given place on the score scale, but that does not tell you about where the school has been or about the performance of the school over time.  Like the Hare, could a school be resting on its previous strength?  It is hard to tell.

On the other hand, school growth over time is similar to the Tortoise.  Many schools do not start off well, but because of renewed effort or innovative teaching, their persistence over time can put them in a good position to help their students succeed.  Interestingly, this type of measure could penalize schools that were already performing well.

So, what measure do we use?  Our new brief tries to combine the best of the Tortoise and the Hare by presenting point-in-time scores and seeking to capture the Value-Added measure of each school.  This measure controls for past student performance, and seeks to answer how each specific school enhances the educational quality of their students.

Also, in the spirit of School Choice Week, we take an initial look at what this analysis says about Arkansas charter schools, specifically with how they compare to their “local market” of school alternatives.  Basically, we ask the question: “Do charter schools provide a reasonable or better alternative to their local public counterparts?”  While there are many different and nuanced questions surrounding charter schools this legislative session, we believe this question gives a good place to start the conversation.

If you want to see how charter schools are performing in Arkansas, click here to read the new Value-Added Performance of Arkansas Charter Schools OEP policy brief and join in on the conversation!!!

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