Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

School Matters: High-Poverty Public Schools Have Higher ISTEP+ Pass Rates Than Charters

A student plays with Legos at Christel House Academy, a charter school on Indianapolis' south side.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

A student plays with Legos at Christel House Academy, a charter school on Indianapolis' south side.

Conventional wisdom, writes blogger Steve Hinnefeld over at School Matters, says charter schools are outperforming public schools.

But his analysis of 2013 ISTEP+ pass rates at high poverty schools shows traditional public school students passing more frequently than their peers at charters:

I merged Department of Education spreadsheets with data on free and reduced-price lunch counts and ISTEP-Plus passing rates. Then I sorted by free-and-reduced-lunch rates and focused on schools where 80 percent or more students qualified for lunch assistance. Results include:

For charter schools: Average passing rate for both E/LA and math, 48 percent; passing rate for E/LA, 62.3 percent; passing rate for math, 62.5 percent.

For conventional public schools: Average passing rate for both E/LA and math, 57.2 percent; passing rate for E/LA, 64.1 percent; passing rate for math, 68.1 percent.

The data set includes only schools that enroll students in grades 3-8, who take ISTEP exams; it excludes high schools and many primary-grade schools. I also tried to screen out nonstandard schools such as juvenile detention centers and dropout recovery schools.

Again, the differences aren’t huge but they appear to be significant. Suppose students in high-poverty traditional public schools passed the tests at the same rate as students in high-poverty charter schools. The result would have been nearly 1,000 fewer students passing in E/LA and 2,000 fewer in math.

Charter schools are public schools that aren’t a part of the geographic district in which they are located. They can’t charge tuition and are funded on a per-pupil basis.

As we’ve written before, Indiana charter schools received fewer A’s and B’s in 2012-13 than all public schools did as a group. Less than 25 percent of charters received the top grades last year, compared to 65 percent of all public schools.


  • Bob Eckert

    That’s because at a public school , their little heads aren’t buried in the Old Testament.

    • Gerrit Geurs

      Is this really the level of discourse you wish to display for the public sphere? While I am a public school teacher, avid Christian (whatever that means), and not a supporter at all of charter schools, there is plenty of effective instruction that can happen with texts from the Old Testament regarding critical reading that do not require the teaching of religion along the way. In fact, a book such as Ecclesiastes puts forth much more complex ideas that require engagement, more so than much of what passes for YA literature in school libraries.

    • Amy

      There’s a difference between charter schools and religious private schools…most charter schools are not teaching a specific religious curriculum.

  • ducky

    I thought charter schools are public schools, populated by students whose parents were unsatisfied with the traditional public school in their geograpchic area, for whatever reason. Would it not be safe to assume, that based on this self selection of unsatisfied parents v satisfied parents, the unsatisfied parents may have students whose academics were already lagging behind their peers, regardless of income disparity? How much growth per student in the traditonal public schools compared to the growth per student of those chosing to make the move to a charter…. not surpriingly, we are asked to make a value judgment without having all the relevent facts to decide, or do we even have to chose between two models of learning which might be complementary?

    I am not defending charter schools, so save your wrath. I am asking whether we are fair in comparing building performance, versus individual student growth. Someone has that answer – but we never seem to get that specific an analysis.

  • indyscott

    It is great to show all of this data but why not go out and ask the parents of these charter school students questions about their experience? The parents are choosing to send their child to the charter school so do they think they are receiving a better product.

  • Caitlin

    I love Steve Hinnefeld (a good friend of mine), but I’m surprised to see what he did called “expert analysis” compared to the work they’re doing at CREDO. For example, CREDO took the time to compare charters with their local district alternative. Steve did a mass comparison between high free/reduced lunch schools, but didn’t sort for things like rural vs urban, and certainly didn’t compare the performance of charter schools directly to their local district counterpart. Steve completely recognized the limits of his calculation and said as much in his blog, but this article misrepresents it.

    • Caitlin

      Sorry, it’s actually in a more recent article that his work was called “expert analysis” – I got confused because I linked to this article from the more recent one.

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