The latest study from CREDO explores the student growth outcomes of charter networks in twenty-four states, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Overall, it includes 3.7 million students, 5,715 charter schools, 240 Charter Management Organizations (CMOs), fifty-four Vender Operated Schools (VOSs). And like previous CREDO studies, it relies on the virtual control record (VCR) method, which compares each charter school student to a statistically constructed “virtual” peer with similar attributes.

In the study, the authors identify three types of charter networks: CMOs, VOSs, and Hybrids. They define a CMO as an organization that oversees the operation of at least three charter schools and is the charter holder for those schools. In contrast, a VOS is overseen by an organization that operates at least three schools but does not hold their charters. Hybrid charter schools have aspects of both a CMO and a VOS.

Based on these definitions, the authors estimate that approximately 68 percent of charter schools are independent, meaning they don’t belong to any network, leaving 22 percent that are part of a CMO, 8 percent that are affiliated with a VOS, and just 1 percent that are Hybrids. On average, the authors estimate that independent charters have almost no impact on student learning gains relative to traditional public schools. However, CMOs achieve an additional seventeen days of learning in both math and reading, while VOSs achieve an additional eleven days of learning in reading, and Hybrids achieve an additional fifty-one days of learning in math and an additional forty-six days of learning in reading. On a related note, nonprofit schools, which include most independent schools and CMOs, perform ever-so-slightly better than for-profits, which include most VOSs.

Like previous CREDO work, the study uncovers dramatic variation in charter performance at the state level. For example, CMOs in Massachusetts produce an additional 177 days of learning relative to traditional public schools and an additional 125 days of learning relative to non-CMO charters. In contrast, CMOs in Nevada lose ninety-one days of math learning relative to non-CMO charters and 131 days relative to traditional public schools.

In addition to these state level differences, the study identifies some truly outstanding networks, including multi-state “super-networks” such as Uncommon Schools (plus 155 days in math) and KIPP (plus 51 days), as well as local standouts like Amethod (which achieves an astonishing 275 days of additional learning in math), Tekoa Academy, American Indian Public Charter School, and this year’s Broad Prize winner, Success Academy, which achieves an additional 200 days of learning in math.

Consistent with CREDO’s previous research on charters, which suggests that they provide greater benefits to minority students, the results also show that CMOs serve poor, black, and non-ELL Hispanic students much better than traditional public schools do. However, relative to traditional public schools, they achieve less progress with white, SPED, and ELL students. Overall, charters also achieve the strongest results in middle school and high school. For example, middle schools that belong to CMOs achieve an additional fifty-seven days of learning in math. Finally, despite the generally positive effects associated with brick-and-mortar charters, like previous CREDO studies, this one finds that online CMOs have a worryingly negative impact on the average student, equivalent to the loss of approximately 120 days of learning in math each year.

While management structure isn’t the catchiest angle from which to look at school success, this research is an important addition to the evidence of what works for charter school students.

SOURCE: James L. Woodworth et al., “Charter Management Organizations 2017,” Center for Research on Education Outcomes (June 2017).

Policy Priority:

David Griffith is a senior research and policy associate at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where he helps manage a variety of projects in Fordham’s research pipeline. A native of Portland, Oregon, David holds a bachelor’s degree in politics and philosophy from Pomona College and a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University. Prior to joining Fordham, he worked as a staffer for Congressman Earl Blumenauer…

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