Just over thirty years ago, the first public charter school law was passed in Minnesota. One year later, City Academy Charter School opened its doors in St. Paul. The charter sector now boasts more than 7,700 schools serving over 3.4 million students nationwide.
And the case for charter schooling is stronger than ever, thanks in part to groundbreaking research from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that helps explain the charter school achievement advantage, the sector’s positive impact on traditional public schools, and more. The weight of the evidence indicates that effective charters are one of the greatest tools we have to equalize educational opportunity, close racial achievement gaps, and spur upward mobility.
In honor of National Charter Schools Week, we’ve rounded up some of our most recent charter school research and commentary.
Recent and Upcoming Research
"Still Rising: Charter School Enrollment and Student Achievement at the Metropolitan Level" (January 2022)
In the wake of the biggest education crisis in living memory, the need for transformational change is palpable and urgent. Accordingly, Still Rising: Charter School Enrollment and Student Achievement at the Metropolitan Level asks: Can a rising tide of charter schools carry students in America's largest metro areas—including those in traditional public schools—before it? And if so, how far?
To address these questions, Fordham's associate director of research David Griffith analyzed a decade of data on reading and math achievement at the metropolitan level, as well as nearly two decades of data on charter and traditional public school enrollment. He finds:
- On average, an increase in total charter school enrollment share is associated with a significant increase in the average math achievement of poor, Black, and Hispanic students, which is concentrated in larger metro areas.
- On average, increases in Black and Hispanic charter school enrollment share are associated with sizable increases in the average math achievement of these student groups, especially in larger metro areas.
- On average, an increase in total charter school enrollment share is associated with a significant narrowing of a metro’s racial and socioeconomic math achievement gaps.
It’s not hard to connect the dots: The United States is reeling from a pandemic that has widened and deepened achievement gaps that were already pernicious, while depressing the achievement of most students. Getting more children into charter schools could help reverse those dire trends.
Still Rising in the media:
- Analysis: New Research Confirms that Charter Schools Drive Academic Gains for Their Own Students—and for Kids in Nearby District Schools —The 74 Million
- Lift the charter cap to serve NYC families —New York Daily News
- Petrilli, Griffith, Rosenkrans: Gov. Murphy, Listen to The Evidence and Let Newark Charters Expand —NJ Education Report
"Robbers or Victims? Charter Schools and District Finances" (February 2021)
For years, foes of school choice have claimed that charter schools “drain the coffers” of traditional school districts. Yet in a recent study, Robbers or Victims? Charter Schools and District Finances, we found that this assertion is largely unfounded.
Analyst Mark Weber examined the impacts of charter school growth on district finances. Using enrollment and fiscal data reported by traditional school districts between 2001 and 2018, he assessed the relationship between the local market share of independent charter schools—those not authorized by traditional school districts—and the finances of their “host” school districts in twenty-one states.
In most states, results show that total revenues per pupil increased as the percentage of local students who enrolled in charter schools rose.
"The Power of Expectations in District and Charter Schools" (to be published in Summer 2022)
Decades of research show that high quality educators and strong school leadership are essential to improving students’ educational outcomes. Research also shows that numerous factors can contribute to effective teaching, such as the caliber of teacher preparation programs, the quality of one’s teacher peers and supervising mentors, and the size of teaching bonuses, to name a few.
Another, more scalable factor that may contribute to quality teaching lies in teachers’ expectations for their students. Likewise, a common theme across successful charter schools is their emphasis on high expectations for all of their pupils. Yet few studies have attempted to connect these two literatures.
This study, to be authored by American University’s Seth Gershenson, will break new ground by examining how expectations of students vary by school sector, comparing the expectations of teachers, parents, and students in charter and traditional public schools. It will also dig into whether and how possible “expectation gaps” may correlate with longer-term student outcomes (such as college enrollment, completion, earnings, and receipt of social assistance) in one sector or the other.
"How do For-Profit and Non-Profit Charter Schools Differ in their Effectiveness and Operations?" (to be published in Fall 2022)
The fractured state of national politics has exacerbated the growing animus toward the charter sector—and in particular, toward charter schools managed by for-profit entities. In recent years, some states have banned or considered banning the management of charter schools by for-profit companies, and President Biden, with the encouragement of House Democrats, has issued regulations that would almost certainly deny startup funding to “for-profit charter schools.”
Yet what constitutes a for-profit charter school—and what constitutes “management”—is not always clear, as most charters (like most traditional school districts) contract some services from outside vendors, most of which are for-profit companies. Moreover, we know precious little about how the status of a charter school as a for-profit or nonprofit organization is related to its effectiveness.
This upcoming study, to be authored by Ohio State University’s Stéphane Lavertu, will use data from Ohio to clarify the definition of “for-profit” charter schools, explore how spending, processes, and services differ across schools with for-profit and nonprofit status, and estimate the extent to which that status corresponds to student educational outcomes.
From the Flypaper Blog
- Biden Administration fails to follow the science on charter schools —Michael J. Petrilli
- Biden administration’s proposed rules for Charter School Program empower districts at the expense of communities —Christy Wolfe
- The plot to weaken New York City charters —Robert Pondiscio
- Why authorizers shouldn’t shy away from helping their charter schools improve —Alex Medler
- Charter attendance, education outcomes, and civic participation —Amber M. Northern
- The hypocrisy of school districts saying they’re “open to all” —Jessica Poiner