Urban charter schools significantly boost reading and math achievement for middle and high school students, concludes a Massachusetts study. But students showed no gains — and some lost ground — in suburban and rural charters.
The “no excuses” model used by most urban charters produced significant gains, concluded researchers for National Bureau of Economic Research led by Joshua Angrist, an MIT economics professor.
Researchers compared scores on the state exam for nearly 10,000 secondary school students who participated in lotteries at 24 charters from 2001-02 to 2009-10: All the non-charter students had applied to a charter school but lost the admissions lottery.
Urban charter schools enrolled low-income, low-scoring, minority students, while non-urban students were less likely to be poor or non-white and scored above average, reports Education Week.
Urban charters improved their students’ math and language arts scores from the bottom quarter of the class to the mean for all urban public school students. Black, poor, and very low-performing students showed the greatest improvement.
By contrast, while students attending nonurban charter schools started out with test scores slightly above the average of their peers attending regular public schools, their performance in high school was flat, and in middle school actually regressed to the average.
Urban charter students end up close to the average for suburban students, Agrist said. “That achievement is remarkable.”
Charter schools in higher-performing suburban districts often focus on a theme, such as performing arts or language immersion, said Jed F. Lippard, president of the Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Association. Intensive academic preparation is not the goal.
No non-urban charter school called itself a “no excuses” school, while more than 70 percent of urban charter leaders identified with the model, which “focuses on intense math and reading instruction, extended learning time, discipline, and parent involvement.”
• On average, urban charter school years lasted five days longer and their school days were 42 minutes longer than those at nonurban charters, with 35 more minutes a day spent on math and 40 minutes more on reading.
• More than 80 percent of urban charters required parents to sign a contract pledging their involvement with the school, compared with 46 percent of nonurban charters.
• Sixty-five percent of urban charters used a formal discipline and reward system, compared with 18 percent of their nonurban peers.