Making sense of charter research

Some research shows charter schools are more effective than traditional schools. Other studies find no difference. What’s going on? Debra Viadero of Inside School Research asked Mathematica researcher Brian Gill, who said research results are converging.

A new randomized study on charter schools for the federal Institute of Education Sciences  found that overall, charter middle schoolers were no more successful than similar students in traditional public schools. But disadvantaged urban charter students did better, while suburban charter students did worse. That supports other research finding charters are more successful with disadvantaged students.

The consistent findings on charter schools’ effectiveness with disadvantaged, urban populations — and their apparent ineffectiveness in suburbia — also made Gill wonder why middle-class parents continue to choose them. “One thought I had was that maybe middle-class families are looking for something other than test scores,” he said.

That’s the explanation, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. Many suburban charter schools were started by progressive educators and parents as alternatives to traditional schools.

As far as I can tell, lots of these uber-progressive schools are quite good, and achieve excellent results in terms of student success in college and beyond. . . . But these institutions sure aren’t focused on getting kids ready to pass the state standardized test. So, compared to their traditional school counterparts, their test scores suffer.

High-poverty charters with lower test scores than neighboring schools should be shut down, even if parents prefer the charter, Petrilli writes. If poor kids don’t learn reading and math, they’re doomed. But suburban parents who choose a school with lots of art, music, gardening and projects — and lower test scores than the high-scoring school down the block — are not dooming their children to a lifetime of poverty.

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  1. Have you read this speech? I thought it was excellent

    “Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling in Graduation Speech”

  2. The IES study focused on charters that were sufficiently oversubscribed to allow comparison between students who won the lottery and those who did not. The study examined only 36 (or so) schools of the almost 500 that had been around long enough to meet the study’s age requirements. Most of the schools it didn’t examine were not oversubscribed. So the study really focuses on schools that were most popular with parents.

    So it may well be that middle class parents who choose charters are less concerned about scores. But it’s hard to tell what’s going on with charters generally without looking at a larger sample.

  3. Independent George says:

    The really interesting studies will be an analysis within charter schools – that is, an attempt to identify what works and what doesn’t. The whole point to charters is that improvement will be iterative – as you close down non-performing charters, and expand the high-performing ones, over time, the schools as a whole will converge towards higher performance as new charters attempt to replicate & improve upon the proven models.

  4. Sorry if this is slightly off topic, but I’d sure like there to be a website where I can go to read the actual charters of all charter schools in California.

    And it would be nice to read online the data they submit for renewal and how it compares to their goals.

    How hard would it be to have this online?

  5. There should be wide preference given to schools parents prefer. As long as test scores and other relevant data are made available to the public.


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