Opponents of charter schools often cite a national study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) as evidence that charter schools don’t have a significant impact on student achievement. The 2009 CREDO study (PDF) examined charter school performance across 16 states (New York was not included) and found that only 17% of charter schools outperformed traditional public schools, while 37% performed worse.
While the 2009 findings were both sobering and instructive, it’s important to note that charter schools were historically meant to serve as innovation centers, providing opportunities for educators to try new methods, such as longer school days and mixed-learning. As is always the case when pioneering new efforts, some strategies will excel and should be scaled and adopted as best practices, while approaches that fail to serve our children should be phased out.
An example of where charter schools are shining, and one charter school opponents often neglect to mention, is New York City.Another study from the same research center (PDF) looked at NYC charter schools and found that 51% of them showed significantly larger gains in math, and 29% showed larger gains in reading, compared to district schools. Overall, the 2010 CREDO report found that nearly 30% of NYC charter schools outperformed district schools, and another 60% performed on par. But you don’t see opponents of education reform waving this report around in their columns and blog posts. Perhaps they haven’t read it.
Hopefully, they’ll read the newest report from CREDO, which again shows significant advances in achievement for students attending charter schools, this time in neighboring New Jersey. The report released this month (PDF) found that on average, charter school students gained an additional three months of learning in math and two months of learning in reading compared to their peers in district schools.
This is meaningful and tangible progress. If charter schools in New York and New Jersey continue this trend, the result will be real advances in closing the achievement gap between the poorest and most affluent communities. In fact, another report (PDF) by economist Caroline Hoxby – also infrequently mentioned – found that Harlem students who attend NYC charter schools would tighten the gap between their test scores and scores from their peers in wealthier neighborhoods by 86%.
What all of these reports demonstrate, and what education reformers have been saying for years, is that a strong network of charter schools, with the right oversight and support, can provide promising options for families. While it might be convenient for opponents of education reform to cherry pick stats that strengthen their case, it doesn’t help the more than 65,000 kids in NYC that applied for fewer than 15,000 charter school slots last spring, or the students across the country who year after year, are stuck in failing schools with no other options. One can hope that those who claim to be education experts – and those who aim to serve in public office – will be more diligent about getting the full set of facts when it comes to what’s working for our children.