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Report: NM charter school laws rank high

allianceNew Mexico has better charter school laws than most states, but the “performance” of its charters lags behind, a just released National Alliance of Charter Schools report says.

The report ranked New Mexico’s charter school laws — which establish oversight and authorization rules — as the 12th best in the nation.

But the state’s charter schools ranked 21st out of 26 states in the report’s performance ratings, which were based on test scores, recent charter openings, use of innovative practices, student demographics and other factors. Twenty-four states weren’t included in the ratings because less than 1 percent of their students attended charters or their data wasn’t available.

The performance of New Mexico’s charters should improve in time, the report said.

“Because of the time lag between when these policy changes happen and when they begin to affect student results, we sometimes see states that are ranked high in the law rankings but are not yet achieving consistently strong results in the (performance) rankings,” the report said.

The state began requiring charters put annual benchmarks into the contracts they negotiate with authorizers in 2011, said Doug Wine, executive director for the New Mexico Coalition of Charter Schools. In New Mexico charter schools are authorized by the state or a local school district.

The benchmarks are based on a charter’s academic goals and should allow authorizers to see if the school is improving over time, Wine said. But he added New Mexico requires charters to reauthorize every five years and so some haven’t yet put benchmarks in their contracts.

Positive findings in the report include:

  • Charters made up 11 percent of the number of public schools in New Mexico last school year.
  • Among the state’s charters, 35 percent use practices supported by the Alliance such as the use of independent study and opportunities for students to take higher education courses.

Areas of concern highlighted in the report include:

  • While charter school students have scored on par with traditional school students in reading on a statewide test, they have not scored as well in math — based on 2011 data.
  • New Mexico’s charters serve fewer poor and minority students than traditional schools, according to 2013 data. Minority students made up 74 percent of the traditional school population but only 67 percent of charter students. And while 70 percent of traditional school students in the state are eligible for free and reduced lunch, only 33 percent of charter school students qualify.

Wine said some charters under-report their free and reduced populations because they’re not eligible to receive federal funds tied to students in poverty.