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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Charters are outperforming traditional public schools

Charter schools are outperforming traditional public schools, according to a new study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), reports Libby Stanford in Education Week. From 2015-19, the typical charter student made greater academic gains than similar students in the traditional public school (TPS) they otherwise would have attended, according to researchers at the Stanford-based center.

Achievement First students in New York City.

Overall, charter students gained 16 additional days of learning in reading and six days in math, according to CREDO, which analyzed data from 29 states, New York City, and the District of Columbia.

Gains were largest for black and Hispanic students, students living in poverty, urban students, English Learners and for students attending networked charters.

For example, urban charter school students had 29 additional days of growth per year in reading and 28 additional days of growth in math. Blacks gain 35 days in reading and 30 days in math, but remain way behind all other groups.

Special-education students did worse than the comparison group, and those in online charters did much worse.

Rhode Island students gained 90 days of reading and 88 days of math compared to similar TPS students. In New York, charter students gained 75 days of reading and 73 days of math. I wonder if the very successful Achievement First network, which operates in both states, and the high-scoring Success Academy network in New York City have bumped up those numbers.

Success Academy dance students in New York City.

CREDO data show no signs charters are “skimming” the best students. Charter enrollees tend to be lower achieving than students in their former school. After "the initial dip associate with a school change," students improve with every year they remain in a charter school, the report found. By their fourth year, "they show 45 days of stronger growth in reading than their TPS peers and 39 additional days of learning per year in math."

CREDO's first charter study, conducted from 2000-01 through 2007-08, found charter students performed worse than or about the same as similar TPS students, Stanford notes. The second study, analyzing school performance from 2006-07 through 2010-11, charter students had gained more than TPS students in reading and less in math. The current report shows that the gains are a trend, not a fluke, says Margaret “Macke” Raymond, director of CREDO.

While test scores were flat for 15 years on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), charters show that progress is possible, she says.

Most of the gains have come from existing charter schools that figured out how to get better. Weak schools closed. Charter authorizers got tougher about approving new schools.

Eight percent of public schools were charters in the fall of 2021, up from 5 percent a decade earlier, reports Stanford. Charter enrollment grew 7 percent in 2019-20, the first year of the pandemic, while traditional public school enrollment declined by 4 percent. Charters serve a higher proportion of black and Hispanic students and students from low-income families than district schools.

Charter schools have lost much of their bipartisan support, writes Markose Butler on The 74. The teachers' unions pressured Democratic politicians to abandon "an option that is effective at improving educational outcomes for poor and minority students."

In Washington, D.C., for example, charters have improved education outcomes for students, Butler writes. "The innovations that D.C.’s charter schools have adopted and the competition they create have caused traditional district schools to improve as well."

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