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Charter schools attract new students, struggling to find quality teachers

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The first study of Baltimore City public charter schools did not conclusively indicate if they are the answer to improving student performance.

The 2005-06 school year was the first for Maryland public charters, and of the 15 chartered schools statewide, 12 were in Baltimore with a total enrollment of almost 3,000 students.

Benjamin Feldman, Baltimore public schools research, evaluation and accountability officer, said 8 percent of the charter school students were new to the system, compared with 5 percent overall ? a signal charter schools may be attracting students who previously were enrolled in private or parochial schools.

Racially, ethnically and economically, charter school students resemble the overall city school population, Feldman said.

"Have we created enclaves of entitlement and privilege?" Feldman said. "The charters basically look like the schools around them."

However, he noted that charter schools serve fewer special education students.

Feldman also said that students entering charter schools had fewer previous behavioral issues and generally higher test scores than the overall population.

David Stone, the system?s director of new, charter and community schools, said charter schools? results were "mixed." Six of the 10 charter schools assessed by the Maryland State Assessments made adequate yearly progress. Charter schools? grade promotion rates ranged from a low of 77 percent at KIPP Ujima Village Academy to 99.4 percent at Midtown Academy. KIPP Ujima?s relatively low rate may be a sign of tougher standards ? the school matched the highest test scores statewide.

Attendance and national standardized test scores for first- and second-graders were similar among charter and non-charter schools. The percentage of charter school students in grades 3 to 7 scoring proficient on MSA reading and math tests was roughly 10 to 12 points higher than peers in non-charter schools.

"Charter schools are attracting higher-performing students and not necessarily driving student performance," School Board Chairman Brian Morris said.

Other data indicated that most charter schools struggled to employ teachers who meet the "highly qualified" federal No Child Left Behind requirements. During the first year, nine of 12 charter schools had a lower percentage of classes taught by such teachers compared with the non-charter city average.

Five more Baltimore charter schools accepted students this fall and six more were recently approved by theschool board for next year.

rcassie@baltimoreexaminer.com

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