In Partnership with 74

New federal report: more poor kids, more charters, higher test scores

Vanessa Romo | May 28, 2015

Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.

Providence_Photos_There are more children living in poverty today than there were two decades ago. Charter schools are ubiquitous, popping up in more neighborhoods all over the country. And the achievement gap between white students and nearly everyone else is shrinking.

Those are a few of the key findings in The Condition of Education 2015, a report released today by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The report, delivered to Congress, summarizes new developments and trends in education each year using a combination of updated census data, test scores and survey responses from teachers as well as other measures.

In 2013, nearly 21 percent of school-age children — about 10.9 million students— lived in poverty, reflecting families with household incomes of no more than $15,510. That was a 50 percent increase in the number of children from 2000. According to the report, another 4.8 million children under age 5 were living in poverty in 2013.

“Research suggests that living in poverty during early childhood is associated with lower than average academic performance that begins in kindergarten and extends through elementary and high school,” according to the report, which also found that poverty produces below average rates of graduation and college enrollment.

Teachers rating Kindergarten students on their eagerness to learn, ability to pay attention in class and personal organization, said poor kids are less likely to have “positive approaches to learning.” Students whose family household income rose above 200 percent of the federal poverty level, received higher scores.

Charter schools grew by 300 percent over a 13-year period. At the start of the 2012-13 academic school year there were about 6,100 charters across the country, up from about 1,500 in 1999. During the same period, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools skyrocketed to 2.3 million from 300,000 .

While California enrolled the largest number of students in charter schools with 471,000 choosing them over traditional public schools during the same time period, that number represents only 8 percent of the total student population. The District of Columbia has the highest percentage of charter school students: 42 percent, 31,600 students. Arizona follows with 14 percent of its students enrolled in charter schools.

Despite their growth, charter schools have yet to be legalized in eight states: Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia.

The size and make-up of charters has also changed, the study found. Where most started off as small schools, capping enrollment at about 300 students, now only about half enroll so few students.

Demographic changes at charter schools mirror those occurring in traditional public schools. Student populations have gone from mostly white — 42 percent in 1999 — to just over a third. Hispanic students are the fastest growing group attending charters, up to 29 percent from 20 percent 15 years ago. The percentage of black students has also declined, down to 28 from 34.

School districts are getting (a little) closer to closing the achievement gap between white students and everyone else.

“From the 1970s to 2012 the white-black and white-Hispanic score gaps in reading and mathematics narrowed as a result of black and Hispanic students making larger gains in achievement during that period than white students,” the report says.

But most of those gains are being made at the middle school level. Average reading and mathematics achievement for 17-year-old students did not change significantly between the early 1970s and 2012 or between 2008 and 2012. However, Asian/Pacific Islander students surpassed all other groups in reading and math.

Read Next