A thread on the Town Crier discussion board about whether Advanced Math and Science Academy (AMSA) charter school students are "disadvantaged" relative to Wayland students includes a variant on this post.

The formation of a charter school in an area that is performing poorly ON AVERAGE does not necessarily mean that the students from that area who attend the charter school perform equally poorly. A parent of a child who struggles might, for instance, be dissuaded from sending his or her child to a school called the Advanced Math and Science Academy.

To my knowledge, it's not possible to see grade 3, 4, and 5 MCAS scores for the students in AMSA's grade 6-9 charter school. There are, however, comparisons that can be made based on data available on the "profiles" section of the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education web site.

Student Population

% White
- AMSA 86.2%
- Wayland 79.6%

% Asian
- AMSA 8.4%
- Wayland 10.2%

% Hispanic
- AMSA 2.1%
- Wayland 3.8%

% African-American
- AMSA 0.2%
- Wayland 4.1%

In the overall student population, white and Asian students tend to be on one side of the achievement gap and Hispanic and African-American students on the other. I have no idea if this general finding holds for AMSA and Wayland students, but based purely on these cursory demographics, AMSA might be expected to out-perform Wayland.

We can dig deeper by looking at other student indicators.

% of students for whom English is a second language
- AMSA 8.4%
- Wayland 5.2%

% of students with Low English Proficiency
- AMSA 0.0%
- Wayland 0.2%

% of students in Special Education
- AMSA 5.2%
- Wayland 18.3%

% of students described as low income
- AMSA 1.9%
- Wayland 5.1%

% of students receiving free lunch
- AMSA 1.7%
- Wayland 3.7%

% of students receiving reduced price lunch
- AMSA 0.2%
- Wayland 1.4%

On all but the first of these measures, Wayland would appear to have the more disadvantaged student population, but of course, there may be more complex underlying factors.

Percent attendance
- AMSA 95.9%
- Wayland 96.5%

Percent in-school suspension
- AMSA 1.0%
- Wayland 0.4%

Percent out-of-school suspension
- AMSA 4.4%
- Wayland 0.3%

Perhaps Wayland children come to school more because Wayland punishes them less?

Student:Staff Ratio (FY07)
- AMSA: 16.9:1
- Wayland: 13.4:1

Within reason, there is not strong evidence suggesting that smaller classes necessarily lead to better educational outcomes. Typically, Wayland has larger classes relative to its peer districts (but not AMSA), ranking 8th out of 11 on that metric in FY06.

Teaching Staff

Percent of staff with teaching certification
- AMSA 48.3%
- Wayland 97.8%

Percent of core academic teachers who have certification
- AMSA 85.5%
- Wayland 99.4%

I don't know what impact this has on educational outcomes.

Average Teacher Salary (FY07)
- AMSA: $50,312
- Wayland: $64,037

I don't know if this correlates with years of experience, overall pay scale, or other factors.

Spending

FY07 Per Pupil Expenditure
- AMSA: $10,017
- Wayland: $13,214

This is not surprising, as Wayland has more educators per student, and pays those educators more. Given that athletics (a popular "target") makes up only 2% of Wayland's budget, the cost difference lies elsewhere, and as the data above show, that elsewhere is in teaching.

In general, smaller schools tend to be at a disadvantage when it comes to per pupil expenditure, as they have fewer students over which to spread fixed costs, making AMSA's cost numbers all the more impressive. Whether you like AMSA's approach to educators relative to Wayland's or not, AMSA does do a good job of keeping cost down relative to Wayland.