Study: Urban charters raise achievement

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.

In addition, urban charters were more likely to provide tutors and Saturday classes.
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  1. Perhaps another interpretation is, “Kids who spend more hours in school, are tutored and have involved parents will, on the whole, do better than those who do not.”

  2. Suburban charters tend to attract families disaffected with the “teaching to the test” that goes on in traditional public schools. The “virtual charters” serving homeschoolers in particular have an issue with the STAR (or equivalent state test). At best, many parents ignoring it aside from bringing their children in to take it. At worst, some actively encouraging their children to sabotage the results by randomly filling in bubbles.

    • John Thacker says:

      Exactly. The poorer but aspirational parents in urban areas want back-to-basics aggressive teaching even if it does “teach to the test” because they want their kids to have better opportunities.

      Charters in the suburbs are more likely to have upper middle class parents who want a more creative learning experience that *doesn’t* teach to the test as much.

      Without judging who’s right, both parents are getting what they want. Freedom is grand.

  3. Is this before or after they’ve counseled out or kicked out 60% of the kids who start?

  4. And let’s not forget that charters send kids out into the streets to pick the pockets of the wealthy as well as steal from street merchants in order get fed gruel by their very Faginly institutions of “learning”.

    Here’s the bottom line, kids.

    People are tired of waiting and nothing you can do or say is going to change that fact. There’s hardly anyone alive today who wasn’t raised on a steady diet of excuses of why the public education system can’t do a better job of educating kids and what the one, sovereign remedy – money – which buys more excuses, happens to be. People like that tend to turn a deaf ear to more excuses.

  5. Stuart Buck says:

    Mike in Texas, you already know that the 60% figure is false. See this comment: