Education, National

New studies shine light on efficacy of charter schools

Two studies were released in October from universities in California that demonstrate the effectiveness of school choice and the need for more options in education.

In early October, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University released a study which followed the educational progress of over 97,000 charter school students in New York over the course of four years. The research concluded that charter school students perform at a level equivalent to receiving an additional 22 days of learning in reading and 63 days in math per year when compared with their public-school counterparts. The results for students attending schools associated with a Charter Management Organization were even greater, adding up to approximately 57 additional days in reading and 103 in math.

Charter school minority students, who accounted for 92 percent of the study’s population, tested at a level equal to receiving at least 23 extra days of learning in reading, and 57 days in math when compared to traditional public-school minority students. CREDO was clearly justified in concluding that, for minority students, attending charter schools “indicated a significant academic advantage.” However, this was not the study’s most significant finding.

The most impressive subgroup in the study was charter school students in poverty, who outperformed non-poverty traditional public-school students. Their growth was equivalent to over 55 days of supplementary learning in math, and they tested at the same reading-level as “their more affluent peers.”CREDO’s findings undermine arguments from charter school adversaries, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Task Force on Quality Education, who in a recent report stated that “even the best charters are not a substitute for more stable, adequate and equitable investments in public education in communities that serve all children.”

However, CREDO’s study concluded that charter schools have a positive and statistically significant impact in both reading and math for poverty, special education, and minority students.

By these findings, charter schools are more equitably and adequately serving students from all backgrounds than traditional public schools, especially those which conventionally underperform in education. I encourage the NAACP to examine these findings, and reconsider their “concerns about charter school quality.”

The political clamor surrounding charter schools is just that–confusing noise. It is time we consider what CREDO calls “evidence about charter schools’ impact on student outcomes.”

With such objective proof as the aforementioned research to back its success, school choice is becoming an increasingly non-partisan issue. It is gaining support from both Republicans and Democrats even in traditionally liberal states, such as California.

A day after CREDO’s research was released, the Institute for Government Affairs at the University of California Berkeley released a poll which found that 69 percent of California voters believe low-income families have little choice in what schools their can children attend. Additionally, the poll found that 55 percent of voters support government subsidies–including tax credits and school vouchers–to increase options for students from low-income families to attend private or religious schools.

Support for tax credits and vouchers for low-income families was even higher at 69 percent among households with K-12 students, while a plurality of 46 percent of voters believe tax credits and vouchers should be made available to all households, regardless of income. The poll notes that support for school choice for low-income families is bipartisan.

Bipartisan support for school vouchers from California is encouraging, and is an indication of shifting sentiments. Twice California has had school voucher propositions on its ballot — proposition 174 in 1993 and proposition 38 in 2000 — and twice they were rejected.

Hopefully, California will follow the example of other states which are leading the nation’s school choice movement. Once again, Colorado is at the forefront of this movement, and has set the tone for cooperation regarding school choice. Just this year, House Bill 1375 — which takes steps to equitably share funding from local tax dollars with charter schools — was passed due to the commendable cooperation of Colorado’s Republican and Democrat legislators.

Opponents of school choice constantly denounce it as an elitist system. But I encourage skeptics to examine the objective results such as those in CREDO’s study, then determine whether school choice is truly elitist and discriminatory. When making laws that influence our children’s futures, we must rely on fact-based evidence rather than partisanship and political agendas to give them the opportunities which will best prepare them to succeed.

Connan Houser is a research associate at the Independence Institute (@i2idotorg), a free market think tank in Denver.

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