Steve Canavero, director of the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority
John S. Hawk, director of Nevada State High School (a charter) and president of Charter School Association of Nevada
Margaret Raymond, project director of CREDO's National Charter School Study 2013
BY JOAN WHITELY -- Nevada charter schools performed dismally compared to charter schools elsewhere, according to a recent national study. But Steve Canavero, a state education official, said he’s confident Nevada policy has changed sufficiently to turn around the performance of its charter schools.
Canavero, who heads Nevada’s State Public Charter School Authority, admitted that the Nevada results are “unsettling,” but said the report drove home three points:
Entities that sponsor a charter school do play key role in that school’s performance
Failing charter schools must be shut down
To ensure quality, authorities need to selectively award charters
Canavero joined a panel of educators – including one of the study authors – to dissect the report by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, based at Stanford University. John Hawk, the director of Nevada State High School – a charter that serves eleventh- and twelfth-graders by “brokering” them into courses at local colleges – also joined the panel.
The weak showing by charter schools in Nevada compared to the rest of the country may have been due to “relaxed attitudes about who gets a charter,” says panelist Margaret Raymond, who directed the project that resulted in CREDO’s National Study of Charter Schools 2013. She acknowledged that the 2011 and 2013 Nevada Legislatures tightened up charter policy in ways that are likely to improve performance.
In 2011, the state created the charter school authority that Canavero now heads. Earlier this year, Canavero explained, legislators put into law “an absolute basement” for school performance that will force a failing school to close – namely, if a charter scores three consecutive years at the state’s lowest rating, it must shut down.
CREDO’s “National Study of Charter Schools 2013” ranked Nevada last in achievement of charter school students for five school years ending with 2010-2011. It looked at schools in 27 states, who account for 95 percent of charter students across the country. Specifically, in math, Nevada’s charter students lagged almost three-quarters of a school year behind their public-school counterparts. In reading, Nevada’s charter students lagged more than half a year. Nevada finished significantly behind other states that also finished at the back of the pack, such as Oregon and Pennsylvania.
U.S. charter schools as a whole performed slightly better than public schools in math, and on a par in reading, the study also showed.
Hawk suggested that the modest level of performance is commendable because charter schools do not, in fact, receive per-pupil funding equal to that of public schools. Charter schools must pay for the buildings they occupy out of their annual budgets, while public school facilities are separately funded.
“We think of CREDO as the research group you love to hate,” says said with a laugh. “We get scorched on both sides.”
Charter proponents take heart in the 2013 assessment results, noting progress from CREDO’s 2009 study, when charter students lagged behind mainstream students in both reading and math. But skeptics suggest that if charters can’t out-perform public schools, then taxpayers should not be starving school districts to fund charters.
And yet, Raymond concludes, “The kind of progress we were able to illuminate over the last four years in the charter-school sector is pretty strong. We don’t know of any other school-reform initiative in the United States that’s been able to show this kind of progress over such a short period of time.”