This book presents scientific findings from a major study of charter schools in eight states. Since the opening of the first U.S. charter school in 1992, controversy has raged across the nation as to whether or not charter schools should be supported with tax dollars. Now, with over a million students attending charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia, sufficient data have been collected to begin to address many of the concerns raised by charter school detractors.
The questions considered in the study described in this book were:
1. What are the characteristics of students transferring to charter schools?
2. What effect do charter schools have on test-score gains for students who transfer between traditional public schools (TPSs) and charter schools?
3. What is the effect of attending a charter school on the probability of graduating and of entering college?
4. What effect does the introduction of charter schools have on test scores of students in nearby TPSs?
The data for the study came from: Chicago, San Diego, Philadelphia, Denver, Milwaukee, and the states of Ohio, Texas and Florida (for question 3 only). The authors offer the following key findings from their research.
1. There is no evidence that charter schools are systematically attracting above-average students.
2. Transfers to charter schools do not involve dramatic shifts in the sorting of students by race in any of the sites included in the study.
3. The average achievement effects of elementary charters are very difficult to assess in the absence of prekindergarten baseline test scores.
4. Virtual charter schools, which use technology to deliver education to students in their homes, merit special attention since students in online classes appear to do less well than students in traditional, face-to-face classes.
5. In most locations, charter schools have difficulty raising student achievement in their first year of operation.
6. Charter schools in most locales have marginally greater variation in performance than TPSs, as measured by the achievement-impact estimate for each school.
7. In the two locations (Chicago and Florida) with data on educational attainment outcomes, attending a charter school has statistically significant and substantial increases in graduating and enrolling in college.
8. There is no evidence in any of the locations that charter schools are negatively affecting the achievement of students in nearby TPSs.
This is a very important contribution to the field of charter school research and policy. I encourage everyone who is engaged in these endeavors to read this book.