- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A study of middle school students in charter schools in 15 states has found that they generally performed no better in math and reading than other public school students.

Students in charter schools in urban areas were an exception; they did better in math than their public-school peers, and charter-school students were generally more satisfied with their schools, said the study, done by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. and released Wednesday. But the outcome — that charter-school students generally didn’t do better academically than other students — is sure to be disappointing to education officials seeking new ways to improve student achievement.

“This study adds to a growing body of evidence on this important policy issue,” said John Easton, director of the Institute of Education Sciences in the Department of Education, which commissioned the study.

“This report helps us make sense of previous charter school studies that have generated a wide range of findings,” said Phil Gleason, senior fellow at Mathematica and lead author of the study.

The findings, the first of their kind on such a scale, involved 2,330 middle-school children at 36 charter schools in 15 states. The charter schools were popular enough to use lotteries to decide which students would be admitted. The study compared outcomes of students who attended the schools (lottery winners) and children who applied but were not admitted (lottery losers) and typically went back to their neighborhood schools.

“We found that the average charter school — did not have positive impacts on students’ math or reading achievement,” Mr. Gleason said.

However, like previous lottery-based studies that focused on single, urban districts, he said, “we found that charter schools in large urban areas and those serving a more disadvantaged student population had positive impacts on students’ achievement in math.”

Recently, Mathematica released a study showing that students in the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter-school system did well in both reading and math. In the 2009-2010 school year, some 5,000 charter schools are serving more than 1.5 million students in 40 states and the District of Columbia. This is about 3 percent of all public school students.

Charter schools are intended to play a key role in school improvement under the existing Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind), as well as the programs established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Mathematica researchers said. However, the mixed outcomes are likely to continue the debate about how and under what circumstances to fund charter schools, they said.

In addition to mixed outcomes in academics, the Mathematica study found that charter schools did not significantly affect other outcomes, such as student attendance, suspensions, behavior or measures of student effort in school.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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