by CJ Macklin
A growing body of research and data support the positive benefits a good public charter school can have on students. Many of these charter schools operate in communities where the only other option is a failing district. A successful charter often is a lifeline for at-risk children.
In New York and Connecticut, public charters are out-performing their host districts, and have been for years. In some cases, these schools exceed state averages in both English and math, which is significant considering the state average is pulled up by wealthier, high-performing districts.
A recently released CREDO study examined the performance of New York City charter schools compared to their host district. CREDO found that students who attended a public charter received one additional month of learning in reading and five additional months of learning in math than their district schools friends.
It is fair to acknowledge there are still areas where the charter community can improve, particularly when it comes to struggling schools. A national CREDO study released last year, found that closing low-performing charters was the best tool for improving overall sector quality. In fact, if the 667 schools that were found to be performing significantly lower than district schools on student growth measures were closed, the overall charter sector would improve dramatically.
Beyond CREDO’s findings, we also can look at the most recently-available state testing results to show just how well charters do when compared to their host district. In New York, 60 percent of public charter schools out performed their host district in grades 3-8 in English and math. In Connecticut, the percentage of charters that outperform their host district in grades 3-8 reading and math jumps to 71 percent.
Charter school students graduate at higher rates and benefit from other social factors as well. In New York, charter schools across all demographic groups and at-risk factors outperformed their counterparts at host district schools and the New York State average, according to data from the 2008 high school cohort (students graduating four years later and released in 2013). In Connecticut in 2012, 60 percent of charters graduated more African-American students than their host district, and 67 percent graduated more free- and reduced-priced lunch students than their host districts. A Harvard study also found that students from one New York City charter school were more likely to enroll in college than their peers, female students were less likely to become pregnant, and males were less likely to be incarcerated.
There is a common criticism that charter schools only perform better because they serve smaller percentages of students with special needs. It is an area where many charters have acknowledge they’d like to improve, including by supporting a bill in New York that would remove current barriers to serving more special education and ELL students. However, the truth is more nuanced than the criticism suggests. A recent Manhattan Institute study found that New York City charter schools “significantly reduce” the chance that a student is designated as needing special education services in the first place. The research also debunks the myth that charters are “pushing out” students with special needs, finding that charter students with IEPs actually are less likely to leave the charter school.
Demand by parents for charter schools is another way to gauge success. Today there are almost 4,000 names on charter school waitlists in Connecticut and more than 50,000 names on waitlist in New York City alone. This demand can be seen at schools like Achievement First Hartford, where it is not only one of the highest performing non-magnet schools in the city, but also is the one of the top elementary school choices for families in the city-wide school lottery. These parents see public charter schools as a place they want their children.
The charter school movement’s goal is, and always has been, to create good schools. It is important that we continue to support the growth of charter schools in New York and Connecticut, and provide them with the tools they need to succeed. Doing so will help more children get the education they deserve.