Selected readings on US charter schools
How can policymakers, educators, and parents know if charter schools are delivering on their promise of improving students’ lives? Test scores are the barometer most frequently used. While test scores can tell us a lot about school quality, they don’t always indicate how effective schools are at helping students secure a better future – from high school graduation, through college, and into the workforce. Now, for the first time, we have solid data about how charter schools not only improve students’ academic performance, but also give them a great start in life.
A recent study by Mathematica Policy Research uses data from Florida and Chicago to measure the effects of charter high schools on graduation rates, college enrollment, and college persistence – the rate at which students stay in college beyond the first year. The study also provides a first glimpse at the positive effects charter schools have on boosting earnings in adulthood.
High school graduation is a key first step in changing the life trajectory of some of our country’s most at-risk students. On this measure, charter schools in Florida and Chicago are producing impressive results. According to the study, students enrolled in a charter public high school are 7 to 11 percentage points more likely to graduate compared to their peers in district-run schools.
The study also examined whether charters were successful in boosting college enrollment rates in the year following high school graduation. The study found students attending a charter public school significantly improved the probability they would enroll in college by 10 and 11 percentage points in Florida and Chicago, respectively.
Additionally, charter public schools increased college persistence rates in both locations with a greater impact in Florida than in Chicago. This means those students who graduated from charter public schools were more likely than district-school graduates to complete at least two years of post-secondary education at either a two-year or four-year college.
But what is most groundbreaking about this study is that it looked beyond a student’s success in school and studied the effects of charter schools on earnings in early adulthood. While data is currently only available for charter students in Florida, the benefits found are substantial. The study showed that charter school attendance was associated with an increase in maximum annual earnings between ages 23 and 25 of $2,347 – about 12.7 percent higher than for comparable students who attended a traditional high school. This is a critical measure to monitor as we continue to determine what types of schools are effective in not only driving academic achievement, but also laying the groundwork for lifelong success. We hope the long-term effects of charter schools will become a priority area of study and exploration in Chicago and cities across the country.
Some critics may argue that this study is flawed because of selection bias—that charter school students are not a representative sample of the public school population because they and their parents choose their school – a signal of engagement and motivation. However, the study controlled for this by comparing students in charter high schools with students who had attended a charter school in eighth grade and then left to attend a traditional public high school. Since the students in both samples had made the decision to enroll in a charter school in eighth grade, the authors were able to isolate the impact of charter high schools on performance and earnings.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized that improving access to college and helping students succeed there must be our number one priority if disadvantaged students are to “build ladders into the middle class.” Charter schools and their leaders are deeply invested in addressing this critical issue and are at the forefront of finding and applying innovative solutions both in the classroom and beyond to successfully support students to and through college.
The results of the Mathematica study challenge all of us to broaden our definition of school success. It’s time to measure what matters most and find solutions to ensure all students graduate high school, succeed in college, and get a great start in their careers.
Source: Forbes – by Nina Reese and Andrew Broy
Nina Rees is president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Andrew Broy is president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.