State praises performance of FL charter schools vs. traditional schools — but is the analysis fair?

Richard Corcoran (photo from Wikipedia)
Former House Speaker Richard Corcoran appointed Florida Education Commissioner

FL’s charter schools for the most part perform better than traditional public schools when it comes to test scores on state exams, according to a Florida Department of Education report released Monday.

But the analysis also shows that traditional public schools have higher percentages of students in poverty.

Why is that important? Poverty – meaning kids eligible for free and reduced-price lunch – has long been a key indicator of achievement, with low-income students posting lower test scores than more affluent peers.

The report shows that 65 percent of students in traditional public schools are eligible for free and reduced lunch, compared to 54.9 percent for charters schools.

In addition, Hispanic kids make up 42.3 percent of the charter school population compared to 32.5 percent in traditional public schools. And traditional public schools have higher percentages of special needs students compared to charter schools. Those kinds of factors can impact test scores.

Charter schools are public schools overseen by private groups, part of the “school choice” movement that allows families to send their children to schools that aren’t in their traditional neighborhood school zones.

The two groups – charters and traditional schools — have been at odds for years, as the rise of charter schools has covered the education landscape in Florida.

“Charter school enrollment has more than doubled over the last decade and represents more than 10 percent of public school enrollment Florida,” the report states.

Enrollment in charter schools was 295,732 students in the 2017-18 school year, compared to 2,554,738 students in traditional public schools, according to the report.

The state requires The Florida Department of Education to do an annual statewide analysis of the performance of student achievement by charter schools compared to comparable students in traditional public schools. The current analysis involved state tests in math and English Language Arts and other statewide exams, adding up to 4.2-million test scores for 2017-18.

The vast majority of comparisons showed that charter kids performed better. For example, in middle school English Language Arts, 61.9 percent of charter kids passed the ELA exam, compared to 52.2 percent of student in traditional schools.

In math, 64.3 percent of charter kids in middle school passed the statewide math exam compared to 56.8 percent for traditional school students.

In science in middle schools, 56.3 percent of charter kids passed compared to 51.7 percent for traditional public school students.

“There is simply no denying that choice works, particularly for minority and low-income students. These results represent hundreds of thousands of Florida families who were empowered to make the best education decisions for their children and are reaping the benefits,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said in a news release.

“Governor DeSantis has made bold choice-related proposals leading into the 2019 Legislative session, and this report provides further evidence that they are right for Florida.”


Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.


  1. DeSantis is going for more vouchers for private (religious)
    Schools. This should make the
    AFP Party (R) of DeVos & Koch
    happy. HB 855 & S.B. 1454 by Fl.
    Citizens Alliance will help with
    Their goal to get Climate Change & Evolution removed.

  2. First, remember that Florida’s privatization program has two main tracks: charters (privately run, publicly funded) and vouchers (diverted tax dollars; private mostly religious schools; not accountable to the FSA.) This comparison, which focuses on charter schools, should not be taken as a scientific “experiment.” The groups of children were not “randomly assigned” to traditional public vs. hybrid public charter schools, and other experimental “controls” were not employed. The biggest confound in the comparison is the role that a family plays in enrolling a child. Highly involved families may be able to game the system better, and may prefer charters, more than other families, thus there is selection bias in the “study.” Highly involved families are going to pay more attention to their children’s schoolwork, and the children will perform better. More studies should be done to look at Hispanic families in general, as well–without overgeneralizing, it looks like many of them could be more highly involved. Charters also have backdoor ways of excluding certain students they don’t want. Public schools must take everyone.


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