If the Michigan Department of Education were to take the socioeconomic status of students into consideration when ranking school performance, it would find that charter public schools outperform conventional public schools on the state's Top-to-Bottom list, according to an analysis done by Audrey Spalding, education policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Spalding’s analysis found that if there are two schools of the same grade levels where both have the same percentage of students eligible for a free lunch — one a charter public school and the other a conventional public school — the charter would, on average, be ranked 5 percentage points higher on the state’s rankings.
The statistical analysis adjusts test scores based on poverty levels, or in this instance the number of students eligible for a free lunch.
Charter schools in Michigan have significantly more students who are eligible for free lunch than conventional public schools. Some 66.4 percent of charter schools students are eligible for free lunches, while 39.2 percent of conventional school students qualify for free lunches.
"It is interesting that the Michigan Department of Education is working to crack down on charter schools, despite the fact that they outperform conventional schools on the department's own ranking when student background is considered," Spalding said.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy included socioeconomic status of students in its “context and performance” report cards for all public high schools and elementary/middle schools starting in 2012. Later, Bridge Magazine and Public Sector Consultants released public school rankings also based in part on socioeconomic status of students.
Jack Schneider, assistant professor at College of the Holy Cross, said test scores are a much more accurate measure of race and family income than they are of what students learned in school.
If that's the case, than adjusting scores based on poverty level would be more fair when evaluating schools and teachers. However, the Michigan Department of Education has resisted including socioeconomic status of students in its rankings.
In addition to this analysis of the state's TTB rankings, more rigorous research shows that charter public schools perform better in Michigan.
Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a report in January 2013 that found the average Michigan charter school student outperformed conventional school peers on 52 of 56 outcomes tested. Charter school students received what amounted to an additional two months of learning in reading and math over an academic year compared to their conventional school peers.