Charter Schools Close Achievement Gap
Special Report - October 5, 2009
A new study of New York City charter schools found that the race-based achievement gap shrinks more quickly and by more among charter school students than it does among their counterparts who applied and were not admitted to a charter school. The report released last week is part of the larger New York City Charter Schools Evaluation Project by Stanford University economics professor Carolina M. Hoxby. The multi-year study, seeking to address the claim that charter school students tend to score better than traditional public school students simply because “better students” choose to attend charter schools, includes nearly all of New York’s 78 charter schools and has been collecting data on students in grades 3-12 since the 2000-2001 school year. The most recent study compared the achievement of students who were admitted to charter schools with students who applied, but did not get picked through the lottery admission process and so went to a traditional school instead. This provided for a scientifically unbiased random data set of students across economic, racial, and gender backgrounds. Overall, increases in achievement directly correlated to the amount of time a student spent enrolled in a charter school.
The longer a student attended a charter school, the more likely he or she was to earn New York’s Regents diploma for high-achieving students. Additionally, a student scored about three points higher for each year spent in charter schools before taking the Regents test. The study also found a stunning impact among charter school students on shrinking the achievement gap based on race. “On average, a student who attended a charter school for all of grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86 percent of the ‘Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap’ in math and 66 percent of the achievement gap in English,” according to the report.
Charter schools in New York, like North Carolina, are privately run, but publicly-financed public schools that use a lottery system to determine admission. While careful not to imply causation, the study did make a point of recognizing specific practices common in charter schools that correlated with the results. Specifically, charter schools in New York have longer school days, spend more time on English, and employ more effective small rewards/small penalties discipline strategies than their traditional public school counterparts. They also determine teacher pay based on performance or duty levels, unlike the pay-scale used by traditional public schools.
New York and North Carolina both have more than 30,000 students in their charter school programs. New York had an additional 40,000 students on waiting lists during the 2007-2008 school year. In North Carolina, the 1996 state law that established charter schools requires that no more than 100 charter schools may operate in the state at one time. Because the cap was met several years ago, the only way charters become available is when the State Board of Education revokes or fails to renew a charter, or a school relinquishes its charter. Although bills to either raise or remove the cap have been introduced in the General Assembly for the past several years, including at least eight bills in the 2009 session, none have been allowed to move forward. Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have encouraged states to raise or eliminate caps on charter schools. Duncan told education leaders over the summer that states who “put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools will jeopardize their applications [for part of $4.35 billion] under the Race to the Top Fund.”
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.