A standard argument of those who downplay strong results among children in urban charters is that families who are motivated enough to exercise school choice are simply different, and their kids’ success is nearly preordained. This recent paper out of the National Bureau of Economic Research tests this assumption and studies the causal effect of takeover schools on student achievement in New Orleans’s Recovery School District (RSD). Specifically, it looks not at the impact of charter school admissions lotteries on the performance of kids who apply, but rather at the impact on the kids who don’t make a choice to apply—passive participants who are simply grandfathered into the newly constituted school. The sample includes eleven middle schools in the RSD that were slated for closure (called “legacy schools”) and subject to a full charter takeover, meaning they had all grades converted to a new school in a single academic year, typically in the same building. The comparison group is a group of same-grade students enrolled in schools that are not yet closed who, in the prior grade, went to a school that was similar to the one the legacy school students attended. Schools are “similar” if their performance scores are comparable to the legacy schools’. And students are matched based on race, sex, age, poverty, and other demographics. The “pre-takeover trajectories” of both groups of students are quite similar. They find that attending an RSD takeover charter substantially increases math and ELA scores (roughly .21 and .14 standard deviation, respectively, per year enrolled). Takeover effects are larger in seventh and eighth grade and in the first two years of takeover. The study was then replicated for a school in Boston where the authors also had lottery estimates, and the gains for grandfathered students were at least as large as the gains for those who got in via lottery. The analysts sum up the gist of the study quite well: Conventional wisdom says that “urban charter lottery applicants enjoy an usually large and therefore unrepresentative benefit from charter attendance because they’re highly motivated or uniquely primed to benefit from the education these schools offer. [Yet] Boston and RSD takeovers generate gains for their passively enrolled students that are broadly similar to, and sometimes even larger than the lottery estimates reported in [other research].” Very interesting. Charter takeovers of traditional schools are fraught with controversy, mostly among adults; this study says they are beneficial to kids.
SOURCE: Atila Abdulkadiro?lu, Joshua D. Angrist, Peter D. Hull, and Parag A. Pathak, "Charters Without Lotteries: Testing Takeovers in New Orleans and Boston," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 20792 (December 2014).