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NYC Charter Schools Get a Second Look

In its second report on New York City charter schools released last week, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) highlights some promising results, along with some areas for improvement. The report found that the typical student in a New York City charter school gained about five more months of learning in math and one more month of learning in reading when compared to their district school peers. 

Although charter school students in the city made larger learning gains on average, progress in math was far stronger than in reading. This was especially true of charter schools in Harlem, where the learning advantage equated to less than a full month of additional learning in reading but an additional seven months of progress in math. 

In parsing the data further, CREDO found that students in schools affiliated with charter management organizations (CMOs) learned significantly more than their traditional public school counterparts in all subjects, while non-CMO charter students only learned more in math. Overall, charter schools had significantly better results than traditional public schools for minority students who are in poverty, with more pronounced impacts in math than in reading. 

CREDO’s insight is all the more valuable when we keep in mind the original purpose of charter schools: to serve as incubators for innovation and reform. We can look to and applaud the schools that are excelling (and, conversely, apply pressure to those producing inadequate results), but it is imperative that we also act on the findings. 

We must extract lessons from the charter schools that are doing it right and translate their most effective innovations into district-wide improvements. As for those charter schools whose strategies are failing to elevate our kids, New York State law puts them at risk of losing their charters – and rightly so. Charter schools are awarded immense freedom in order to pave the way to better practices; they should be held to the high standards our kids deserve. 

The report ends on a promising note, asserting that further improvements are within sight for New York City if the current trends continue. In moving the entire city forward, the empirical research of CREDO and others is vital and can guide important efforts in systemic change.

Read the CREDO study (PDF)

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