There are five charter schools operating within Pasadena Unified School District boundaries - Aveson's School of Leaders (for grades K-5), Aveson's Global Leadership Academy (for grades 6-12), Odyssey, Rosebud and Learning Works. I found results from the most recent state STAR tests on the state of California's website. The state data also includes information about the demographics of these schools, as well as for the schools of the PUSD.
As far as demographics go, none of the five local charter schools look anything like the PUSD. Just 28% of students tested in PUSD last spring were what the state calls "non-socio-economically disadvantaged." That means that only about one in four students in PUSD comes from families with enough income to be able to afford to pay for their children's lunches each day. The rest - 72% of students in grades 2-12 in PUSD - are "socio-economically disadvantaged" and on the federal government's free lunch program. (STAR testing starts in second grade, so that's why I writing about students in grades 2-12.)
It's a different story at the charter schools. At four of the five charters, more than 62% of the students are not in the free lunch group. These charters are serving a much larger percentage of middle-class families than PUSD is. That's not unusual for charter schools. Studies by UCLA, Arizona State and the University of Colorado have shown that charter schools often effectively re-segregate their communities, typically serving students who are at one end or the other of the income scale.
Since higher family income is strongly correlated with higher test scores, it's fairest to compare students in the same income bracket when comparing charter and public schools. Otherwise, the charter schools would be at a huge advantage, given that for four of these five charter schools, they serve a much, much higher percentage of middle-class-income students than the local public schools.
And yet, when you look at STAR test scores by grade just for non-socio-economically disadvantaged students, you'll find that in almost every case, PUSD students in that demographic category outscored the charter school students taking the same test.
1. Public schools work. Every year, millions of American children graduate from public schools across the country, having completed the toughest curricula in our nation's history, surpassing standards that get tougher by the year. In our public schools, students can learn calculus, analyze complex themes by Nobel Prize-winning authors, study advanced chemistry, biology and physics, program computers, and perform music and dance in international competitions in front of crowds of thousands. Every year, public school students learn, graduate and go on to the world's best colleges and the world's most competitive jobs.
But what about all those news stories about bad test scores and failing schools? Aren't many kids falling behind?
It's true that we've got a huge gap between students in our country - one that grows with each grade level as kids advance from kindergarten into high school. But that's not because we have an education problem in America. It's because we have a large, and growing, child poverty problem in our country.
© Robert Niles. Read more in the column archive.