Interesting Study on Charter Schools

The US Dept of Education just released a study on charter middle schools that’s worth reading. Click Here for the report.

I’ve supported charter schools in the past as a way to experiment with new ways of building schools, but not as a panacea for all students. Just like regular schools, charter schools vary significantly in their performance. Most large scale studies find that there isn’t a huge difference in overall gains in student achievement between charters and traditional schools. This study of charter middle schools (funded by the federal government) isn’t any different.

The main conclusions:

  • On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress.
  • The impact of charter middle schools on student achievement varies significantly across schools.
  • Study charter schools serving more low income or low achieving students had statistically significant positive effects on math test scores, while charter schools serving more advantaged students—those with higher income and prior achievement—had significant negative effects on math test scores.
  • Some operational features of charter middle schools are associated with more positive (or less negative) impacts on achievement.

This study looked at popular charter schools (presumably among the more effective) and found that they produced student gains in low-income urban areas and declines in student performance in higher-income populations.

I don’t find this surprising. In many lower-income urban areas that are served by charters the traditional public option is not compelling. Higher-income suburban areas often have much stronger schools.

It’s worth reading the executive summary of this study for the somewhat obvious insights – some schools are better than others, regardless of the charter/non-charter distinction. It’s up to us as policy makers to figure out how to make all the schools better – we should all have above average schools. (I understand that we can’t all live in Lake Woebegone, but we can hope, can’t we?)



Author: Ross

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.