Research & Studies

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Harvard University and National Bureau of Economic Research
Achievement in Charter Schools and Regular Public Schools in the United States: Understanding the Differences - December 2004

This study by Caroline Hoxby of Harvard University compares the performance of charter school students with students in the nearest traditional public school. Ninety-nine percent of all elementary students in charter schools are included in the study. The study finds that a higher percentage of students in established charter schools are judged proficient on the state reading and math examinations than in the nearest traditional public school. If a charter school has been operating for more than nine years, ten percent more students are scoring at or above the proficiency level in both subjects. For charter schools in operation from five to eight years, five percent more students reach proficiency in reading than their public school peers. The advantage in math is four percent. For charter schools that have been in operation from one to four years, the advantage in reading is 2.5 percent. Overall, five percent of charter school students are more likely to be proficient in reading and three percent are more likely to be proficient in math on their state's exams. (All differences are statistically significant.)

Read news about this study:

Press Release, December 14, 2004
Nationwide Study Shows More Charter School Students Proficient On State Exams Than Public School Peers

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Washington Policy Center
Creating New Opportunities to Learn - October 2004

This is a full-length study of the benefits and detractions of Referendum 55 by the Washington Policy Center, the state's premier public policy research and education organization. Referendum 55, on the Washington state ballot on November 2, asks voters to decide if the charter school law passed by the Legislature earlier this year should go into effect.

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The Philanthropy Roundtable
Jump-Starting the Charter School Movement: A Guide for Donors - October, 2004

Many private funders put improving public education at the top of their agenda, but for many years donors have struggled to have a real impact on sub-par schools. Too often, grants to support reform in existing schools have made little difference in students' lives.

Enter charter schools. A new kind of public school-independently operated, typically started from scratch by impassioned education entrepreneurs-charter schools strike many funders as an ideal way to invest in public education. Since they are created anew, with freedom from many laws and regulations that constrict school districts, charter schools have the potential to be dramatically more effective than the typical public school. Since they are schools of choice, they have to satisfy families or go out of business. Since they are held accountable for results, they can be closed if they don't work. If they are successful, they can serve as models for others starting charter schools or seeking to change existing ones. And if they reach a critical mass, they can induce school districts to improve their conventional schools.

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Progressive Policy Institute
Seeds of Change in the Big Apple: Chartering Schools in New York City - September 21, 2004

Since 1998, when New York's first charter school law passed, about 25 charter public schools have opened in New York City, with 50 more planned to open in the next 5 years. This study reveals impressive early achievement results in charter schools across New York City and New York state. It also shows that chartering has led to the creation of schools that are able to capitalize on the rich community resources of New York City, even while being held to higher accountability standards than other public schools. Beyond improving student learning in individual schools, New York City charter schools act as "seeds of change" for the entire school system in a variety of ways, some planned by school system officials and some unexpected.
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Progressive Policy Institute
Fast Break in Indianapolis: A New Approach to Charter Schooling - September 21, 2004

Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson is the nation's only mayor with the authority to issue charters for new public schools. As of August 2004, 10 schools chartered by Mayor Peterson are open, educating approximately 1,900 students. Three more schools will open in 2005 or 2006.

Although the city's charter schools initiative is young, the early results are promising. Some of the city's most prominent community organizations and citizens have stepped forward to start charter schools. Families are flocking to sign their children up, and parents express a high level of satisfaction with the schools and their academic programs. Also, students in charter elementary and middle schools are making impressive progress in reading, math, and language.

Among the keys to Indianapolis' charter school program is a set of systems designed to lay the groundwork for success. These include the Seed Initiative, which recruits charter school developers who use proven school models; the Lead Initiative, which identifies and trains leaders for new charter schools; a facilities financing fund; a rigorous application process that sets a high bar for charter approval; and a comprehensive, transparent accountability system to track school performance.

Indianapolis' experience with mayor-led charter school development shows that mayors have an array of political, financial, and governmental resources at their disposal, which makes them valuable leaders in the charter movement. Mayors also have advantages as charter school authorizers, such as their accountability to the public and their intimate knowledge of the community.

These lessons suggest recommendations for states, mayors, and charter authorizers elsewhere. More states should experiment with placing mayors within a broader set of multiple authorizers. More mayors should explore charter authorizing and other ways of supporting chartering. Authorizers of all kinds should find ways to allocate sufficient resources to the task or stay out of the authorizing business. And a wide range of actors should become more involved in generating a supply of high-quality charter applicants.

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Florida Department of Education
2002-2003 Annual Accountability Report

Florida's charter schools have proven to be a solid educational option with a strong performance track record. In 2002-2003, 31% of Florida's charter schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act. Only 16% of Florida’s traditional public schools made AYP the same year. Charter schools also performed well in the A+ School Grading System; 73% of all charter schools received a C or higher.

Students entering a charter school often perform below their traditional public schools counterparts. These struggling students pose serious instructional challenges. As a result, the average scores for charter school students often lag behind the average scores of traditional public school students. Research shows that these differences in performance close over time, suggesting that charter schools may provide an additional value for the students they educate.

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Business Wire
California Charter Schools Showing Greater Student Achievement Gains Positive Results Come in Midst of Strong Increase in Number of New Charter Schools - September 07, 2004

California's public charter schools are making greater student achievement gains compared to their non-charter counterparts. The average growth on student achievement for charter schools nearly doubled the growth for their non-charter school counterparts.

These gains were announced in a new school year that has 78 new public charter schools opening their doors for the first time, a 15 percent increase compared to last year. There are now 537 charter schools serving approximately 180,000 students in California.

"These positive student achievement results, coupled with the growing excitement of public school teachers who continue to open new charter schools, show that charter schools are tremendously benefiting California's system of public education. California's charter schools are raising the bar for student achievement and for public education," said Caprice Young, CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.

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Harvard University and National Bureau of Economic Research
A Straightforward Comparison of Charter Schools and Regular Public Schools in the United States - September 2004

This study compares the reading and mathematics proficiency of charter school students to that of their fellow students in neighboring public schools. Unlike previous studies, which include only a tiny fraction (3 percent) of charter school students, this study covers 99 percent of such students. The charter schools are compared to the schools that their students would most likely otherwise attend: the nearest regular public school and the nearest regular public school with a similar racial composition. In most cases, the two comparison schools are one and the same. Compared to students in the nearest regular public school, charter students are 4 percent more likely to be proficient in reading and 2 percent more likely to be proficient in math, on their state's exams. Compared to students in the nearest regular public school with a similar racial composition, charter students are 5 percent more likely to be proficient in reading and 3 percent more likely to be proficient in math. In states where charter schools are well-established, charter school students' proficiency "advantage" tends to be greater.

Read news about this study:

Harvard University Gazette, September 23, 2004
Charter Schools Get High Grades: Charter Students More Proficient than Traditional Peers

The Washington Times, September 18, 2004
Study Shows Charter Schools Better

New York Sun, September 8, 2004
Charter School Students Outperform Peers, Study Says

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Reason Foundation
Special Education Accountability - July 2004

Charter schools in the United States serve between 56,000 and 80,000 special education students and meet two of the federal government's most important goals for these students. First, charter schools successfully provide disabled students with a quality education in the "least restrictive environment" by including special education students in regular classrooms. Second, charter schools reduce the number of students labeled "special education" through aggressive early intervention strategies that keep students performing at grade level.

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Goldwater Institute
Comparison of Traditional Public Schools and Charter Schools on Retention, School Switching, and Achievement Growth - March 15, 2004

In a study released by the Goldwater Institute, Human Resources Policy Corporation president Lewis C. Solmon and Pete Goldschmidt of the UCLA Center for the Study of Evaluation provide strong evidence that the superior performance of Arizona charter school students is not the result of “creaming” the brightest students from traditional public schools. To the contrary, charter school students typically begin with lower test scores but show overall annual achievement growth roughly three points higher than traditional public school students.

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The Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition
March 2004

Considering recent findings that graduation rates for historically disadvantaged minority students are much lower than their white peers, and school districts are being held accountable for graduation rates and more, it is more important than ever to evaluate all of the ways we are educating our children. Having been in operation for six years and serving a population that would make them the third largest school district in the Commonwealth, charter schools in Philadelphia are making gains in serving the needs of the City's school children. Not only are charter schools giving families a choice in their children's education, but they are also encouraging new approaches to traditional public education.

The research presented here looks closely at the ways charter high schools add value to our current system of education. The report recommends that charter high schools be included in all aspects of the School District of Philadelphia's (SDP's) new Secondary School Reform Plan and details reasons why this would be of benefit to the SDP and Philadelphia's children.

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Education Week
February 4, 2004

Both elementary and high school students have become less engaged in school in recent years, meaning that fewer children cared a b out doing well in school and fewer of them always did their homework. School engagement fell for 6- to 11-year-olds from 43.1 percent in 1997 to 34.7 percent in 2002. Among 12- to 17-year-olds, school engagement dropped from 38.2 percent to 30.9 percent over that same period.

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California Legislative Analyst's Office
January 20, 2004

A report, published January 20, 2004 of the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office of the California State Legislature. The most recent evaluation deemed charter schools cost-effective—finding that charter schools achieve academic results similar to those of traditional public schools even though they obtain significantly less state and federal categorical funding.

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National Bureau of Economic Research
Does School Choice Increase School Quality? - January 2004

This study examines the effect of charter school competition on test scores in district-run schools. In 1996-1997, North Carolina had no charter schools. Three years later, its 91 charter schools had enrolled 14,899 students, about 1 percent of the state's total public school enrollment. With most of the charter schools concentrated in metropolitan areas, 90 percent of district-run schools were within 13 miles of charter schools.

The study finds that charter school competition raised the composite test scores in district-run schools, even though the students leaving the district schools for the charters tended to have above-average test scores. The gains were relatively large, roughly two to five times greater than the gain from decreasing the student-faculty ratio by 1, without any additional cost to taxpayers.

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Center for Education Reform
Charter Schools Today - 2003

A report by The Center for Education Reform documents the success of Charter Schools using data from 24 states. Jeanne Allen, the president, writes: "Charter schools are succeeding. As with any new policy, it is important that states track the progress of charter schools. Both opponents and proponents of schools of choice agree that these new schools must be held accountable, and as the following research shows, charter schools are being measured and are measuring up.

"We know from individual state data, reports, and evaluations that charter schools are outpacing non-charter public school student achievement, despite fewer resources and mounting obstacles. And charter schools, like traditional public schools, are also held to account under No Child Left Behind.

"Charter schools are still in their early years, but these positive results are the beginnings of successful future trends."

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