Mixed results

But Positive impacts for most disadvantaged


There is an on-gong debate in the States over whether or not Charter schools, which tend to be small and in disadvantaged areas, are more successful that other local public schools. Charter schools are publicly financed, but are freed from many of the regulations that govern traditional public schools, such as those involving staffing, curriculum, and budget decisions. In late 2010, more than 5,400 charter schools served about 1.7 million students—about 3.5 percent of all public school students—in 40 states and the District of Columbia. The number of charter schools and students is likely to continue to increase in response to the federal Race to the Top program, first introduced in 2009, which gave states incentives to remove caps on charter school growth in order to compete for millions of dollars in federal grants. It is now accepted that some Charter schools and chains of schools perform better than others and States have been tightening up the laws covering Charter schools to ensure a higher quality threshold. This latest report says that ‘previous  research includes student fixed effects analyses across several school districts or states  (see, for example, Sass 2006; Betts et al. 2006; Bifulco and Ladd 2006; Booker et al. 2007;  Hanushek et al. 2007; Ballou et al. 2008; Zimmer et al. 2009) and lottery-based studies that each focused on a single large urban area (Hoxby and Rockoff 2005; Hoxby et al.  2009; Dobbie and Fryer 2009; Abdulkadiroglu et al. 2009; Angrist et al. 2010). The fixed  effects studies have typically found impacts that were insignificant or negative, while the  lottery-based studies have found impacts that were large and positive.’  This paper presents findings from the first national randomized study of the impacts of charter schools on student achievement, which included 36 charter middle schools across 15 states. The paper compares students who applied and were admitted to these schools through randomized admissions lotteries with students who applied and were not admitted.  It finds that, on average, charter middle schools in the study were neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement. However, impacts  varied significantly across schools and students, with positive impacts for more disadvantaged schools and students and negative impacts for the more advantaged. The report concluded that ‘There was also considerable variation in impacts across schools. Those in urban areas or serving more disadvantaged populations had more positive (or less negative) impacts than those in non-urban areas or serving more advantaged populations. These results  provide rigorous evidence for the patterns suggested by previous studies, which have estimated negative or insignificant impacts for geographically diverse samples of charter schools,  but positive impacts for charter schools in urban areas.’  The report included this caveat ‘It is important to keep in mind that charter schools were not randomly selected for the  study, and the resulting sample is thus not nationally representative. The study included only oversubscribed charter schools that held admissions lotteries, and impacts for these schools may differ from impacts of charter schools that are not oversubscribed.’

It is clear that some Charter schools are better than others and this mixed performance has not helped the Charter brand. The  laxity in laws affecting Charter schools which vary between states, and the lack of due diligence-in other words  checking out the providers and their record before signing them up has been a problem but is now being addressed in many states. It is important that the regulatory regime is sound. Only in such an environment will autonomous schools deliver improved outcomes. This is backed by plenty of international evidence.

To see  Charter Schools at their best , at the cutting edge of reform and innovation,  look no further than the  KIPP chain   currently  setting the benchmarks for public education in the USA.


Do Charter Schools Improve Student  Achievement? Evidence from a  National Randomized Study; December 2011; Melissa A. Clark, Philip Gleason,  Christina Clark Tuttle (Mathematica Policy Research);  and Marsha K. Silverberg (U.S. Department  of Education)


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