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Urban Charters Rock CREDO’s Newest Report

Earlier this week, we celebrated Alabama’s entry into the world of charters even as we mourned the death of the first stab at an ESA program here in Colorado. We can’t leave the school choice balance teetering between good and sad, though, so today I want to take a look at some awesome new research on urban charters schools from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO.

Some of you will remember that my education policy friend Ross Izard wrote an op-ed last year praising Colorado’s charter sector for its continued progress and efficiency. That op-ed discussed previous reports from CREDO, including a 2009 national report that was particularly damning—and that was used repeatedly in the years that followed to hammer charters across the country. CREDO’s follow-up 2013 report on charters nationally found significant improvements, and its brand new 2015 report specifically on urban charter schools sees that trend continue.

The report itself is fairly lengthy, but it’s a great read for charter fans. It also comes with a veritable playground (sorry, no monkey bars) of tools, presentations, and infographics that fellow wonks will enjoy. Get in there and click around!

Before you run off gleefully to realm of charter nerd nirvana, though, let’s look at the report’s highlights (note that the following excerpts exclude some details in the interest of saving space and preventing statistical brain damage):

  1. Urban charter schools in the aggregate provide significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading compared to their TPS peers … These results translate to urban charter students receiving the equivalent of roughly 40 days of additional learning per year in math and 28 additional days of learning per year in reading

  2. When learning gains for urban charter students are presented for individual urban regions, regions with larger learning gains in charter schools outnumber those with smaller learning gains two-to-one.

  3. Learning gains for charter school students are larger by significant amounts for Black, Hispanic, low-income, and special education students in both math and reading. Students who are both low-income and Black or Hispanic, or who are both Hispanic and English Language Learners, especially benefit from charter schools. Gains for these subpopulations amount to months of additional learning per year.

  4. Positive results for charter school students increased on average over the period of the study. In the 2008-09 school year, charter attendance on average produced 29 additional days of learning for students in math and 24 additional days of learning in reading. By the 2011-12 school year, charter students received 58 additional learning days in math and 41 additional days in reading relative to their TPS peers.

  5. Compared to the charter school landscape as a whole, the 41 urban charter regions have improved results at both ends of the quality spectrum: they have larger shares of schools that are better than TPS alternatives and smaller shares of under-performing schools.

  6. Despite the overall positive learning impacts, there are urban communities in which the majority of the charter schools lag the learning gains of their TPS counterparts, some to distressingly large degrees. In some urban areas, cities have no schools that post better gains than their TPS alternatives and more than half the schools are significantly worse.

Phew! Are you still with me? Good. I’ll let you digest each of those points individually on your own. For now, I just want to offer a quick ‘n’ dirty breakdown of the report overall: Urban charters are, in general, killing it.

There is, of course, significant variation in charter schools by city, but urban charters in general are producing some amazing results (check the equivalent number of instructional days in the points above). These results are especially impressive when it comes to minority, low-income, or special education students—groups that are historically more difficult to serve effectively. There’s still room to grow, but I think it’s safe to say that urban charters are generally on the right track.

If that doesn’t make you feel good about charters, I don’t know what will. I’m still sad to see the ESA discussion leave the legislature for the year, but CREDO’s new report helps balance the scales back toward the happy side of the choice equation. See you next time!