Another Study Shows that Charter Schools do no Better than Traditional Public Schools

Yet another report has found that charter schools in the United States do no better in increasing student results than traditional public schools. It adds another layer to the accumulating evidence that charter schools are not the answer to better results.

Charter schools are independently operated schools funded by government. They found favour with those who advocate a market in education as the way to improve schools. They would increase innovation in teaching because they would have greater autonomy to take decisions themselves. They would also improve achievement by increasing choice and competition, which would force improvement in traditional public schools.

The expansion of charter schools is a key part of President Obama’s education policy. An English version, called academies, was introduced under the Labour Government and is now to be extended under the new coalition government.

The new study shows that students who won lotteries to attend charter middle schools performed, on average, no better in mathematics and reading than their peers who lost out in the random admissions process and enrolled in nearby regular public schools. The results actually showed that students admitted to charter middle schools through lotteries scored lower on state reading and math assessments than students who applied but were not admitted. However, these differences were found to not be statistically significant.

Although the charter schools in the study had neither a positive nor negative effect on average student outcomes, there was a very wide variation across schools in their impact. In mathematics, for example, the lowest performing charter school led to a large decline in students’ test scores while the highest performing school led to a very large increase.

There were no significant differences in charter school impacts for students by race, ethnicity and gender. The study also found that the students attending charter schools did no better in terms of behaviour, attendance and other outcomes than those who did not win the lotteries.

The report was commissioned by the US Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences. The study involved 2330 students who applied to 36 charter middle schools in 15 states. In each participating charter school, impacts were estimated by comparing average outcomes among lottery winners with those of lottery losers over the two years following the lottery, controlling for students’ background characteristics. An average impact was calculated over all participating schools.

The new findings add to those of other recent studies which show that charter schools have done no better, on average, at improving student achievement than traditional public schools. For example, last year the most rigorous and comprehensive study of student achievement in charter schools in the United States to date found that charter school results were worse than or no better than those of traditional public schools (TPS). The study was conducted by researchers at Stanford University. The study concluded:

…this study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well as their TPS counterparts. Further, tremendous variation in academic quality among charters is the norm, not the exception. The problem of quality is the most pressing issue that charter schools and their supporters face.

There is now a substantial body of research evidence on charter schools. It generally shows their performance to be equal to, or lower than, the performance of traditional schools and that they do not lead to greater innovation. The evidence indicates yet another market failure.

Trevor Cobbold

The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts

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