Before we can understand why charter schools are desirable to serve certain specific educational goals, we must know what they are. By definition a charter school is a publicly funded independent school established by teachers, parents, or community groups under the terms of a charter with a local or national authority. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are now more than 6,700 public charter schools enrolling about 2. 9 million students throughout the country.
These schools, which are named after the charters needed for their operation, must comply ith most of the federal and state regulations that apply to traditional public schools (Lawton). Charters have to meet specific standards and criteria, per these regulations, but differ from public schools in the ability to autonomously decide the methods and practices they can use to meet those standards (Stewart). Charters thus offer educators more freedom to pioneer unique and progressive academic programs, often allowing these schools to shape their programs for special populations and/or experiment to better serve students.
The degree of freedom and autonomy afforded to a charter school will vary state to state, however. States with laws supporting and promoting charter school operation and creation have strong charter laws while those who discourage charter school operation have weak charter laws. Research has shown that no statistically significant differences in charter school achievement can be found based on the strength of the charter laws in the state the school is located. There several reasons charter schools are created.
Charter schools may be founded in order to help students who may not have succeeded in existing schools, provide opportunities for educational entrepreneurs, expand the range of public schools available, increase overall student achievement, encourage existing public education systems to improve, and provide a school choice alternative beyond vouchers (Stewart). However, founders of charter schools cite three main reasons why they have created their own charter school: 61. 1 % to realize an educational vision, 24% to have autonomy, and 12. % to serve a special student population (Manno, Finn, Bierlein, and Vanourek). There are also a variety of reasons why teachers, parents, and students may choose charters over traditional public schools.
Attractive features of charter schools are their intimate scale, clear and focused mission, freedom from excessive regulation and control, the fact that students, teachers and parents have chosen to be there (Stewart). Specifically, families state small school size (53%), higher standards (45. %), educational philosophy (44%), greater opportunities for parental involvement (43%), and better teachers (41. 9%) as the primary reasons for choosing a charter education. Teachers also cite educational philosophy (76. 8%) as a primary reason for choosing charter schools. Teachers also report wanting a good school (64. 8%), like-minded colleagues (62. 9%), good administrators (54. 6%), and class size (54. 2%) as reasons for going charter (Manno, Finn, Bierlein, and Vanourek).
Charter School Results The academic achievement of students in charter schools versus those in traditional public schools has long been a subject of debate and a great number of studies. The body of evidence regarding charter school effectiveness compared to regular schools is largely inconclusive as to whether or not their students achieve higher test scores than their public school counterparts. The studies I examined have shown mostly positive, if only slight, results. Overall, charter students achieved rates of proficiency in reading and math about 9 percentage points higher than their peers in local districts (Peyser).
In other words, students attending charter schools make achievements equivalent to 8 additional days of learning in reading and in math compared to their peers attending traditional public schools according to Stanford’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO). Looking at the schools themselves, half of charter schools in one study produced average proficiency rates at least 15 percentage points higher than local districts while 20 percent outperformed local districts by 5 to 15 percent.
Another 20 percent performed about the same as the local district, and the remaining charters underperformed (Peyser). Another study is a little less generous. CREDO found that 25 percent of charters have stronger growth than surrounding public schools in reading and 29 percent have stronger growth in math. However, there were also the 19 percent of charter schools with weaker growth in reading and 31 percent with weaker growth in math. But evidence shows that charters improve over time.
For example, while our very first study found charter students achieving at about 9 percent better than their peers, when the sample was limited to charter schools open for 5 years or more, the students achievement over their peers widened to nearly 14 percentage points (Peyser). So it is important when thinking about charter school success to allow time for the school to reach its potential. Most states have average charter school performances to match the national average, while some states stand out.
Charter students in states with above-average scores on standardized tests were often stagnant or had negative learning gains compared to their public school peers. However, some states (many with below-average standardized testing scores) had charter students making incredible gains by comparison. And while the learning equivalent to a few more days of school may not impact a high-achieving state very much, in a state with low-achievement these gains can make an important difference to the future success of that state’s students.
Beyond the additional impact of modest gains by charter schools in underperforming states, data showed groundbreaking gains for charter students in traditionally low-performing areas. For example, charter students in the District of Columbia make gains equivalent to 99 additional days of learning and while charter students in New York City make gains equivalent to 92 extra days (CREDO). However, data for Nevada, a traditionally underperforming state, shows charter students having significant losses in reading and math compared to their peers.
So charter schools in historically underperforming areas have the potential to bolster educational outcomes of charter students compared to their peers, but this is no silver bullet. The lowest performing charters are those with both low achievement and weak growth when comparing year to year. 32 percent of charter schools are considered low performing, with weak growth and achievement when looking at reading scores. This jumps to 40 percent of charters when identifying schools with weak achievement and growth in math.
These are the schools that have not and cannot move their students beyond the statewide average, and should be considered for closure. On an aside, charters that employ non-classroom instruction wholly or partly had lower test scores across the board (Lawton). However, as previously stated, many charter programs serve students that may not have succeeded in traditional settings so this may be the result of encompassing new, if underperforming, students into the system (taking their test scores from zero to anything is a positive).
Generally, based on the data I have gathered, charter school students perform comparably or slightly better than their peers in traditional schools. But while these average impacts aren’t very large, the differences for some groups of students are much greater, which will be the topic of the next section. Special Populations There are several important populations for which charter schools provide important gains over traditional public schools.
Students in urban settings, special education students, students living in poverty, and minority students (particularly those who are also low income or ELL) all show modest o significant gains over their counterparts in traditional schools. Students in urban areas are the first subgroup of students for which charter schools have an additional positive impact. Studies show Boston and Lynn charter middle schools, for example, increase student achievement by about 0. 2 standard deviations per year in English Language Arts and about 0. 4 standard deviations per year in math (Angrist, Pathak, and Walters). Once again, for students in traditionally underperforming areas, such as in urban settings, even these seemingly little differences can make a huge impact.
An updated 2015 CREDO report shows, however, that across 41 regions, urban charter schools on average achieve significantly greater student success in both math and reading, which amounts to 40 additional days of learning growth in math and 28 days of additional growth in reading. Another group for which small gains make an impact is special education students. For special education students enrolled in continuing charter schools, CREDO found gains equal to 7 extra days in reading and 14 extra days in math.
It is important to note here that charter schools serve a slightly lower proportion of special education students than do traditional public schools, so the overall impact of these gains is minimal. However, there is real potential for creating special education specific charter schools that are able to serve these underprivileged students better than traditional public schools. Some of the biggest gains by charter school students can be seen in the next group, low income students.
While our first study showed 9 percent gains over local districts for the general charter student population, students from families classified as low income made gains closer to 12 percent over their public school counterparts (Peyser). In addition, CREDO reports charter students in poverty making educational gains equivalent to 14 extra days of learning in reading and 22 additional days in math. Minority charter school students, specifically black students, also show gains over their peers in traditional schools.
Black students in continuing charter schools, for example, make gains equivalent to 14 more days in both reading and math (CREDO 2013). This is unsurprising considering that many charters are authorized specifically to serve historically underperforming student populations, such as black students, with the expectation that the charters will improve educational outcomes for these groups. It is important to note here how these special groups can often suffer cross-sectionally in the traditional school system, and yet make incredible gains in charter schools by being served on more than one dimension.
For example, the subgroup of charter school students who identify as black and also live in poverty show achievement gains of 29 additional days of learning in reading and 36 days in math. Similarly, Hispanic charter students living in poverty show scores equivalent to 14 extra learning days in reading, and 22 in math over their traditional public school counterparts. Hispanic English Language Learners (ELL) especially benefit from charter education gaining on average an additional 50 days of learning in reading and 43 additional days in math when compared to their peers in comparable public schools.
So again, who belong to multiple disadvantaged subgroups may be better served by certain charters. Characteristics of Effective Charters The characteristics of charter schools undoubtedly have an impact on student growth. Just as school environment, policies and practices can affect how students perform in traditional public schools, charter schools which are effective display many of the same characteristics that contribute to student success. First is spending. It is evident that, to a certain point, more money spent per pupil will provide higher quality education and therefor generate higher acheivements.
High performers spend more per pupil, central office staff is a higher percentage of total staff, share of central office staff devoted to human resources in greater. (peyser) 20% spending gap between lowest and highest performers (peyser) –sepnd some of extra money hiring more teachers CLASS/SCHOOL SIZE average number of students per teacher in the top five is only slightly lower (15. 1 vs. 16. 6) average masks the larger differences. 3 of the top 5 have student teacher ratios below 14 while three of the bottom five have ratios above 18 Small school size greater parental involvement, change if something is wrong STUDENT RETENTION The longer a student attends a chart program the more significant the gains. Student retention have stronger growth in both reading and math. Students with one year of charter enrollment realize smaller learning gains than their peers in TPS in both reading and math, with the disadvantage equal to 43 and 58 fewer days of learning, respectively. Learning gains improve significantly for charter students by their second year of enrollment – seeing about 22 more days of learning in reading and 14 more days in math.
Once a student is enrolled for four or more years, their learning gains outpace TPS by 50 days in reading and 43 days in math per year (credo) SPECIALIZATION Many charter schools serve pupils that may not have succeeded in traditional settings, The more specialized the school the higher the gains seem to be. For example, multilevel charters are less effective at educateing their students, especially in math. Charter students attending elementary and middle schools have better learning gains in both reading and math than their TPS counterparts.
However, students attending multi-level charter schools lag behind their TPS peers, especially in math. Charter programs also seem to be more impactful in the lower grade levels. SCHOOL ENVIORNMENT Organizational and school cultures based on explicit expectations for both academic achievement and behavior with meaningful consequences when those high expectations are not met (peyser) educators are willing to accept responsibility for imporved student achievement, build on the experience of innovative successful schools. (Stewart) School environment- no excuses- Standards based curricula, intensive focus on literacy and numeracy as the first foundation for academic achievement –extra time for reading and math direct instruction and differentiated grouping (expecially in the early grades).
Unflagginf attention to detail and commitment to excellence in all things (peyser) Overall the characteristics of effective charters may mirror the characteristics of effective traditional schools, but the autonomy and freedom to innovate that are afforded to charter schools create a unique opportunity for these schools to adopt many if not all of these practices nd serve as pillars of academic excellence to which all traditional schools can aspire to. Non test score benefits It is well known that test scores alone are not a good predictor of success in or after formal schooling. In fact, relying on test scores alone does a poor job of reflecting some important outcomes of a good education such as preparing students to enter college and the job market (Lawton).
Effective charter schools often succeed in providing beyond the classroom benefits such as these for their students, which we must consider when examining the effectiveness of charters. Charter school students are more likely to graduate high school and to enroll in a four year college. Among students in one study who attended a charter middle school, those who went on to attend a charter high school were 7 to 15 percentage points more likely to graduate than students who went to a traditional public high school (Lawton).
According to a 2010 labor department study, just over 70 percent of the graduating class of 2009 enrolled in college while for charters 84% enrolled in college, 60% in 4 year universities (Peyser). We can see here that charters can be very effective at creating a school environment where graduation of high school and subsequent attendance to a university is engrained in the school culture and therefore benefits the students with higher rates of graduation and college attendance than their peers in traditional schools.
There is less data on charter school students beyond their entry into college, but data may suggest that charter school students fare better than their peers when comparing other important post-curricular outcomes such as enrollment in college prep or advanced coursework, college readiness, postsecondary educational attainment, enrollment in occupational/vocation programs, employment and earnings, retention/promotion rates, and civic mindedness (Lawton).
The reasoning behind this may be the school culture charters often provide which instills important non-curriculum skills such as enthusiasm for learning, commitment to hard work, and persistence in the face of initial failure (Peyser). Arguments against charter schools There are many arguments that opponents of charters schools uses to decry the effectiveness and desirability of charter schools which, in this section, I will attempt to disprove. The first concern about charters is that they cost the school district and therefore the taxpayers more money.
In reality, charters receive, per pupil, only about 4/5ths of what conventional schools receive. Charter schools, on the other hand, sometimes bring new money into a district by pulling in students (and therefore state and federal funding) who wouldn’t otherwise be there: private school and home school students, dropouts, and students who live elsewhere but choose to enroll in a districts charter schools. Another argument against charters is that they are not really as innovative as charter school proponents claim them to be.
True, many “innovations” pioneered by charter schools are actually tried and true methods or have been pioneered elsewhere before. But just because educational arrangements are familiar to some does not mean they cannot be revolutionary to those who have never had access to it before. Although special programs may exist in the high-quality Massachusetts education system does not mean they are readily available in Louisiana, for example, where very little beyond basic education has ever been experienced by a majority of students.
Part of what charter schools do best is the ability to combine the best of innovative programs elsewhere into effective programs for students in areas that have never seen educational innovations before. A primary argument against charters is that their superior performance is the result of high levels of attrition. However, according to the data this is simply not true. Charter schools have average attrition rates of about 12 percent compared to many traditional schools in high poverty urban neighborhoods with annual attrition rates of around 33 percent.
The highest performing charters are even more effective at retaining students with below average attrition rates of 9 percent (Peyser). It is the ineffective charters that have more turnover, with the lowest performing charters at above average attrition rates of 20 percent, as parents at lower performing schools are expressing their dissatisfaction by voting with their feet. Some also argue that charter schools are siphoning the best students from surrounding schools which has two effects.
One, it overstates the performance results of the school itself by attributing the high achieving students results to the instruction of the charter school rather than to the student themselves. Second, it leaves nearby schools, from which the best and the brightest students are being pulled away in favor of charter schools, further behind. The idea is that these top students in lower performing schools not only bring up average scores for the school but have an enlightening effect on their peers, driving up test scores by virtue of their performance.
Generally, neither of these worries are true. Opponents also argue the other side, that in addition to skimming the best students from surrounding schools, charters also counsel out, expel or otherwise rid themselves of students who are hardest to educate. Once again, this argument simply does not hold water as about 53 percent of charter students are in poverty and about 30 percent are black compared to 48 percent low income students in public schools and 16 percent black (Forbes).
In fact, many charters are conscientiously trying to serve groups of difficult-to-educate children. They often specialize in serving disadvantaged, troubled or at-risk youth, sometimes referred by regular schools that have failed these kids. So not only do charters serve more disadvantaged kids, but for subgroups with traditionally low performance, charters consistently outperform public schools. The final argument against charters is that there is simply no accountability in these schools, that they can get away with murder and the state will relax the rules for them.
While it is true that charters have a little more lenience as far as the state is concerned, charters are under critical scrutiny by lawmakers, parents and other groups that serve as a check and a drive for the school to do right by its students. According to the 2013 CREDO report 193 schools that were included in the 2009 report subsequently closed due to lower growth in both reading and math throughout the years covered by the earlier study.
This shows that schools that are underperforming at a certain level are not exempt from being accountable to their students and any charter that fails to provide sufficient education for its students is liable for the same disciplinary action as a similar traditional public school. It is important to remember that many of the policies and practices regarding charters (the lower regulations, the fact that anyone can found one, the reduction of state oversight) which are integral to the success of the highest achieving charters can actually compound the ineffectiveness of the lowest achieving ones.
This just means we need to be stringent in identifying the conditions under which charter schools are effective and more importantly the conditions in which they are not effective and use this information to support or restrict as necessary the issuing and renewal of charters. More research needed Most of the existing research on charter schools focuses on comparing student populations and test scores with those of their peers in traditional public schools. There are important areas, however, with potential for additional research on charter schools to be conducted.
An important area for study is longitudinal studies on the long term effects on students in charter schools. These longitudinal studies could follow students through their years in charter programs, through college and into the working world. Studies such as this could provide an idea of charter students success in college and employment outcomes in order to measure those aspects of charter school education that may not be properly captured in test scores but still benefit the student.
Though the little research in this area suggests that real world outcomes of former charter school students may be better, more research is needed and may help to show those on the fence about charter schools the post-curricular benefits these schools can provide for their students. Another area for research into charters is the extent to which non-charter and charter schools implement elements that are known to make schools effective.
There is research already on what factors make a school successful, including small-class size, teacher pay, teacher qualifications and experience. Based on what we have explored in this paper, many of the same factors that make traditional schools successful are also contributing to the success of high performing charters. So statistics identifying how many charter schools implent these factors (versus traditional schools that use them).
This research could help identify charters that can be improved simply by reducing class size, or one of the other school effectiveness characteristics. This leads me to a final area of study. .most research into charters attempt to answer the question of how effective they are or how they compare to traditional public schools. We have already seen in this paper that not only can charter school students far outpace their public school counterparts, but charters can also serve underserved student and benefits beyond the classroom.
Charter schools are widespread, and it is time charter school opponents except that they are here to stay. The focus of research then, should be altered to better understand how the alternative schools can be improved rather than how they compare. This would enable states and school systems to put their energy into maximizing effectiveness of existing charters rather than wasting it on fighting schools that have the potential to serve students well. Conclusion
Reviewing and amending state charter school laws to ensure they included clauses which have been ienitfies as having a positive relationship to student performance, ensuring that funding practices remove barriers to improving charter schools. Factors that postiviely impact a charter school whose mission is to addresss the needs of at risk populations may well differ from those that benefit a charter school whose mission includes a strong but narrow academic focus.