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Report: Charter school pupils score lower

WASHINGTON -- Fourth-graders in traditional public schools are doing better in both reading and math than students in charter schools, the government said in a report fueling fresh debate over school choice.

Yesterday's report said fourth-graders in regular public schools scored an average of 5.2 points better in reading than pupils in charter schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress test. Students in traditional schools scored an average of 5.8 points better in math.

Charter school opponents said the findings show that the schools are a failing experiment that drains resources from traditional public schools.

Charter school supporters called the report flawed and outdated and said charters improve public education by creating competition.

The Bush administration supports charter schools.

The head of the government agency that produced the report cautioned against reading too much into it.

``This was a pilot study and not meant to be definitive," said Mark Schneider, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which did the report for the Department of Education.

The report offered some good news about charter schools: Reading scores at charter schools in central cities serving mostly minority students were comparable to scores at traditional public schools. Math scores at such charter schools still lagged behind those at traditional schools, however.

``On average, they're not doing harm," Schneider said of charter schools.

The center studied fourth-grade math and reading scores at 150 charter schools and 6,764 traditional public schools nationwide. At the time, there were nearly 2,700 charter schools in 36 states. There are now more than 3,600.

The test scores were from the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is given to students across the country.

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