This report from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (widely known as CREDO) investigates, among other questions, whether it’s possible to predict the long-term academic success (or failure) of a charter school during its early years. The authors examined five years’ worth of data from more than 1,300 schools run by 167 charter-management organizations (CMOs) and 410 schools run by education-management organizations (EMOs). (Per CREDO, a CMO directly operates the schools in its network; an EMO contracts with a governing authority to operate the school.) To assess the quality of these outfits, CREDO paired charter-going students with “virtual twins” from their neighborhood district school. The analysts offer four key findings. First, initial signs of school quality are predictive of later performance: Roughly 80 percent of charter schools in the bottom quintile of performance during its first year of operation remain low performers through their fifth year. And 94 percent of schools that begin in the top quintile stay there over time. (Of course, we know from our experience as an Ohio charter authorizer that there are exceptions to this rule.) Second—as we’ve heard before—CMO quality varies greatly: Across the management organizations that were examined, 43 percent outpace the learning gains of their local district schools in reading and 37 percent do so in math. Yet a third have average gains that are worse in reading, and half do worse in math. Third, the quality of a replica charter is roughly the same as the flagship school—two-thirds of CMOs start new schools that are of the same or slightly better quality as the existing portfolio (troublesome because the lowest third of CMOs replicate more rapidly than strong ones). Fourth, EMO schools post significantly higher learning gains than those of CMOs, independent charter schools, or traditional public schools. Increasing the supply of quality charters—and sustaining quality over time—will require watchful charter authorizers that aren’t timid about shuttering poor-performing school—or not letting them start in the first place.
SOURCE: Emily Peltason and Margaret E. Raymond, Charter School Growth and Replication (Stanford, CA: Center for Research and Education Outcomes, January 2013).