In Texas, charter schools now enroll a disproportionate number of students in the state who are English learners. According to a report released Tuesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, charter schools are more likely to prepare them to graduate and attend a four-year college.
The report noted the dramatic increase in English learners in the state over the past 10 years and that those who attend charter schools saw gains in reading compared to their public school counterparts, but less progress in math. They are also more likely to graduate and go to college.
Deven Carlson, the author of the report and the associate director for education at the Insitute for Public Policy Research and Analysis at the University of Oklahoma political science department, said this was one of the first reports to really look at English learners specifically.
Carlson told Chalkboard Review that he was shocked to learn of how large the English learner population is in the state as well as the growth of the charter school sector in the past 10-15 years.
“The total number of English Learners in Texas charters has quintupled in the past decade, from less than 25,000 in 2010 to nearly 120,000 in 2021,” the report found.
The charter school sector now educates a disproportionately high number of English learners.
“The average student in the charter sector now attends a school where 28% of students are classified as English learners, compared to 22% for the average student in a traditional public school,” the report said.
The report found that the charter school sector has come to look more like traditional public schools in their makeup of English learners, also called “emergent bilinguals,” according to Carlson.
English learners who attended charter schools made modest progress in reading and saw setbacks in math compared to public schools, the report said. Carlson explained that the difference could be due to charter schools focusing on English proficiency at the expense of math classes.
“Charter schools in Texas reclassify English Learners as fully English proficient somewhat more quickly than traditional public schools do,” the report found.
Carlson said that English learners who attended charter schools were more likely to graduate, enroll in college and earn more after college than their public school counterparts.
A caveat to this point, Carlson noted, is that the analyses of graduation rates, postsecondary enrollment and earnings after college compares charter schools in the same accountability regime as public schools, because many charters operate under Texas’ alternative accountability system.
Carlson said that it’s important now to take the findings and figure out why charter schools are seeing different results. He said that would likely mean visiting Texas and observing how the schools are run.
“The next stage is a systematic, qualitative assessment,” Carlson said. “How are English learners’ experiences different in the two sectors?”
The report found that more charter English learner students went to four-year colleges.
“English Learners who were enrolled in a charter school in eighth grade were also about five percentage points more likely to enroll in a postsecondary institution than their traditional public school peers, with this difference driven almost entirely by a seven to eight percentage-point difference in enrollment in four-year institutions,” the report found.
The report’s authors talked with administrators at charter and public schools. Still, Carlson said it would be important to set up studies and investigate the differences deeply to see why charter school English learners are performing better after graduation.
“There are clues,” Carlson said. “But it’s hard to draw hard conclusions from those clues.”