Arkansas charter schools perform in top half, nationwide study finds

By: - November 15, 2023 9:29 pm
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Arkansas charter schools performed slightly above average on a national assessment over the course of a decade, according to a new report released Tuesday. 

Arkansas ranked 14th out of 35 states and Washington D.C. in a first-ever ranking of charter student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Arkansas ranked just ahead of Texas (15th), but behind neighboring states Oklahoma (6th) and Louisiana (12th). 

According to the report’s authors, the data suggests that “southern education reform has succeeded, at least in part,” with six of the eight southern states included in the report situated in the top half of the ranked states. 

Created at the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, the rankings are based on a representative sample of NAEP reading and math scores by 4th and 8th graders between 2009 and 2019.  

Luanne Baroni, Arkansas Public School Resource Center’s director of charter development, said the report contains useful data to consider along with other sources, such as Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes. 

However, the report has its limitations. It only addresses results for 4th and 8th graders, and it includes data from states that have large numbers of charter schools and those that only have a few, Baroni said.

“Studies like this are helpful to begin to see a nationwide picture of how charter schools are performing but do not provide all the information needed to completely understand charter school performance or growth, due to a wide variance in state charter policies, and numbers of charters operating in each state,” she said. 


Arkansas has 23 open-enrollment charter school districts and 35 district conversion charter schools, according to the state Department of Education. 

Open-enrollment charter schools are public schools that can draw students from across district boundaries and are run by a governmental entity, institution of higher learning or tax-exempt non-sectarian organization. 

A district conversion charter school is a public school that’s been converted to a public charter school, and it can only draw students from within the school district’s boundaries. 

Baroni said one interesting result of the study was that charter schools that are part of a charter management organization performed better than a single site charter school.

The report also analyzed minority student scores and found Arkansas charter schools had the 7th largest difference in performance between white and Black students. Arkansas was ranked just above Washington D.C., Missouri, Wisconsin, Delaware, Michigan and Maryland, which had a disparity of three-and-one-half additional years’ worth of learning.

The scores of Black charter school students ranked Arkansas 18 out of 29, while the state earned a ranking of 7 out of 32 for Hispanic students’ scores.


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Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.