In a few months, education reformers will begin celebrating the twenty-fifth birthday of Minnesota’s groundbreaking charter school legislation, which passed in 1991 and inspired a wave of similar laws across the country. The charter movement can now vote, drink, and carry a concealed weapon. (But hey, maybe not all at once.)
The millennial era has been a time of rapid growth in the sector: Over six thousand charter schools now serve almost three million kids across the country. And all those ribbon-cutting ceremonies have given rise to a simultaneous flowering of research into the effects of charters. This meta-analysis from Columbia University’s National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education set out to comb through the existing data to identify the specific impact of “no-excuses” charters on math and reading. Offering a brisk tour through the mission and methods of no-excuses schools, it should make handy reading for a public audience that still trips over some of the details even at the quarter-century mark.
After wading into an ocean of some five thousand initial titles, the authors finally ended up weighing the results of sixty-eight relevant studies published on schools that generally fit the no-excuses model (serving urban, high-poverty populations with a mix of lofty academic expectations, tight discipline, and beefed-up instructional time and tutoring resources).
The study’s headline finding provides wondrously encouraging news for advocates of chartering and school choice: When compared with their peers enrolled in traditional public schools, students at no-excuses charter schools experience improvements in math and reading totaling .25 and .15 standard deviations respectively. (Using the same analysis, they calculate the benefits of charters that don’t follow the no-excuses formula to be a still-healthy .15 and .07 standard deviations on math and reading.)
Even better was this easy-to-miss nugget: “Our results suggest that No Excuses schools are more effective in middle and high schools. This pattern appears to differ from the broad literature which indicates that charter schools are more effective at the elementary school level.” That’s more than many educators would dare dream given the persistently flat progress of reform at the secondary level.
We might have expected some optimism after witnessing the stupefying results at world-beating charter networks like KIPP and Success Academy. But it’s still nice that high-performing charters have both passed the eye test of policy commentators and are consistently feted by researchers as well. Now the only question is how the little guys grew up so fast.
SOURCE: Albert Cheng, Collin Hitt, Brian Kisida, and Jonathan N. Mills, “’No Excuses’ Charter Schools: A Meta-Analysis of the Experimental Evidence on Student Achievement,” National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, Occasional Paper No. 226 (2015).