If you had the choice of sending your child to a new charter school located in close proximity to your neighborhood or to your local public school, which would you choose? It seems as though a large number of parents would choose the charter school option, for reasons such as smaller class size, "a change of pace," a new and often more diverse mix of students, energetic and optimistic faculty and school leadership. But what about student progress? Can charter schools fulfill the promise of improved student learning? The jury is still out!
A study was done by the Institute on Educational Sciences (IES) to learn more about whether charter schools were, in general, an effective alternative for all children, not just those with learning disabilities (LD). Data were collected on 36 charter middle schools in 15 states and outcomes of 2,330 students who applied to these schools and were randomly assigned by lotteries to be admitted (lottery winners) or not admitted (lottery losers) to the schools were compared over two years, looking at attitudes, student achievement, academic progress, and behavior. What makes this study particularly interesting is that it is the first large-scale randomized trial of the effectiveness of charter schools in varied types of communities and states.
Here are a few key findings:
Being admitted to a study charter school did significantly improve both students’ and parents’ satisfaction with school
On average, charter middle schools that held lotteries were neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving math or reading test scores, attendance, grade promotion or student conduct within or outside of school
Charter middle schools’ impact on student achievement varied significantly across schools
Charter middle schools in urban areas—as well as those serving higher proportions of low-income and low achieving students—were more effective (relative to their nearby traditional public schools) than were other charter schools in improving math test scores.
Smaller enrollments and the use of ability grouping in math or English classes appeared to have benefitted some charter school outcomes in charter middle schools
There was no significant relationship between achievement impacts and the charter schools’ policy environment.
While these findings cannot be generalized to all charter schools and all communities, it does provide food for thought about what really matters in creating effective school communities, and what (if any) benefit can be realized by these types of schools for students with LD.