Charters educate high-need students

The federal role in charter education is a “haphazard collection of laws, rules, funding preferences and rhetoric that lacks coherence at the policy or action level,” concludes the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings. Its experts recommend:

a) collecting and using more and better data on the performance of charter schools for purposes of authorizing, research, and informed parental choice; b) requiring states to provide equitable funding for charter schools relative to traditional public schools—including support for facilities; c) supporting higher standards for authorizing; d) revising rules and definitions that unintentionally disadvantage charter schools; e) promoting the growth as well as quality control of virtual charter schools; and f) finally and most importantly articulating and following through on a coherent policy with respect to charter schools.

Some 1.6 million children attend 4,900 charter schools in 39 states, the study notes. The best-known chains “create highly structured routines with uniforms, strict rules, and numerous drills.”

But charters take many other forms, including single sex schools, schools for the performing arts, schools for science and technology, bilingual schools, schools for the disabled, schools for drop-outs, and virtual schools where learning takes place online.

Charters attract a disproportionate number of low-income and minority students, especially blacks.  “Initial test scores of students at charter schools are usually well below those of the average public school student in the state in which the charter school is located,” the report finds.

Of five randomized studies, four found charter schools improved student achievement while one found no impact, Brookings concludes. The four positive studies involved urban schools serving minority students. The no-impact study found “students from poor, minority, urban backgrounds did better in charter schools in contrast to students from middle-class, suburban backgrounds, who did worse.”

Thus all the randomized trials are consistent in pointing to the success of charter schools in large urban areas.

In addition to looking at reading and math scores, a study of charter high schools in Chicago and Florida found positive effects on both high school completion and college attendance.

Milwaukee’s charter students do as well in reading and may do slightly better in math compared to students in district-run public schools after one year, concludes a preliminary study by John F. Witte of the University of Wisconsin and Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas.

Students in independent charter schools that were converted from private schools outperformed Milwaukee Public Schools student in both math and reading after controlling for factors such as student characteristics and school switching.

Charters are schools of choice often located in minority neighborhoods, writes Nelson Smith. That’s not segregation.

About Joanne


  1. GoogleMaster says:

    Well, duh. For the poor/minority/urban students, charters offer the ones who want to learn a chance to escape the toxic, unsafe environment caused by felonious fellow classmates and uncaring or incompetent administration in the local public school.

    Hasn’t someone also done a study comparing the performance of such students at charters with that of students who entered, but lost, the lottery for the same charters?

  2. CarolineSF says:

    Don’t forget to look at the attrition/expulsion rates of the high-achieving charter schools. They are fatal confounding factors invalidating sweeping claims of success.


    A 2008 study by the organization SRI International of the San Francisco Bay Area KIPP schools showed that KIPP schools lose 60% of their students between entry and completion — and those students are not replaced, unlike the situation at public schools. And, most importantly, the departing students were consistently the lowest-achieving students. (And Joanne Jacobs, please do not respond again with the charter industry damage-control lie that “the San Francisco KIPP schools are outliers,” as you did when I previously mentioned this. That’s not true.)

    I crunched some of the publicly available numbers for all of California’s KIPP schools (not just San Francisco’s). The majority of the state’s KIPP schools showed the same high attrition — and I also broke them down by demographics. The demographic subgroup that was most likely to be academically challenged also had the highest attrition in each case — sometimes by far. At the KIPP school in Oakland, 77% of the African-American boys who started the 5th grade for the year I researched had left by the BEGINNING of grade 8 — the publicly available data doesn’t show how many (if any!) remained to complete 8th grade.

    An article in the New York Times magazine stated that at the highly praised SEED school in Washington, D.C, 70% of the students are EXPELLED (the article indicated that they were actively expelled) between enrollment and graduation.

    Joanne Jacobs’ book about San Jose’s Downtown College Prep indicates that students leave due to poor academic achievement. The wording makes it clear that the school is EXPELLING students due to poor academic achievement.

    Those are confounding factors that invalidate the happy talk about charter school success. If the most troubled public school could kick out its most challenging 70% of students, how would its achievement look?

  3. CarolineSF — haven’t you pasted your little KIPP-SF rant into about 1,000 blog comment sections by now? I guess it’s safe territory to stick with your one thought about education, given how quickly you get shot down when you attempt a new thought (such as in the thread where you argued that PSAT scores showed anything about unionization).

  4. Why can’t she present it? This site contains the same rehashed propaganda the “reform” crowd has been spewing for years.

    Alex Trenton just doesn’t like the facts. Geoffery Canada may be a hero to you but the truth is he expelled an entire grade level from his school.

  5. I suspect the finding that charters are supposedly worse for middle-class, suburban kids is rather misleading. Most of such charters of which I know attract families dissatisfied with the all-test prep, all-the-time mentality of the local traditional schools. Many of these families consider the STAR test to be bogus and I personally know several who encouraged their children to randomly mark the answer sheets as a protest against having to take it. This practice makes me angry since it jeopardizes the continued existence of the charter. I agree that a multiple-choice test is not a great assessment of the child’s learning but it would be cost-prohibitive to administer a better test on a wide scale. So while recognizing the limitations of the current STAR test, families still need to encourage their students to do their best on it rather than using it for their political agenda.

  6. Roger Sweeny says:

    If the rant is right, it doesn’t matter how many times it has been posted.

    Similarly, I think it is unfair to accuse Joanne of “rehashed propaganda.” Joanne is pretty fair in presenting good and bad about charter schools. It is unquestionably true that she wants charter schools to be successful and is on the lookout for positive news. I think that’s because she wants students to be successful, and she knows the track record of previous reforms is pretty bad.

    The awful alternative is saying, NOTHING IS GOING TO IMPROVE THINGS MUCH. That may be true but nobody in this business wants to believe it.

  7. CarolineSF’s rant is both old news and irrelevant to this post. KIPP in California or Geoffrey Canada may have done things that you don’t like several years ago, but that has very little to do with the findings of randomized studies, with the study on graduation rates in Chicago and Florida, etc.

  8. Crimson: Yeah, good thing they’re tying my job to those tests that parents encourage their children to fill in randomly.

  9. GoogleMaster says:

    OK, suppose KIPP does expel the kids who can’t follow the rules and/or aren’t academically ready and/or can’t/won’t do the work. That still doesn’t invalidate the fact that for the kids who do stay, who do work, who do learn the social skills required for academic success, KIPP has made a difference. Without KIPP, those kids who have been proven to be capable of success would probably have languished in their local inner-city schools.

    So maybe we can’t have 100% success. Isn’t SOME success better than NONE?

  10. Most middle class white kids in suburban schools are relatively low achievers (for the demographic). It’s highly unlikely that more than a tiny fraction are randomly bubbling in. The reason they don’t score as well is first because they are, as a rule, less-skilled and second, because charters get marginally better results with Hispanic and black kids by moving more slowly and teaching a much easier curriculum. Hence, the white and/or suburban kids are learning less and learning it more slowly.