Economic Facts Affecting Your Child’s Education | Fact 14

The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution shows that, among its 13 other economic facts, the best charters are highly effective, but that others perform no better than traditional public schools.

Fact 14. Several charter schools have been successful at raising student achievement, but gains are not universal.

Charter school enrollment has grown steadily over the past two decades, from about 400,000 students (1% of the student population) in 2001 to 2.3 million (4.5% of the student population) in 2013.

Charter schools differ from traditional public schools in that they are subject to fewer regulations and typically receive a fixed funding amount per pupil (though total per pupil expenditures vary due to philanthropic support).

Charter schools have greater scope to innovate, employing a variety of methods, such as the use of certain curricula, alternative class schedules including longer school days and “Saturday school” to increase instructional time, high-dose tutoring, and other approaches.

This new approach has yielded some success: Many urban charter schools are able to significantly improve test scores in math and English in one year. As shown in figure 14, middle school students attending urban charter schools in Massachusetts and New York have increased their math scores by roughly one-tenth to one-third of a standard deviation relative to their peers who attended traditional public schools.

Such gains are substantial: In the case of the Harlem Children’s Zone charter schools, if the same gains were achieved for three years it would be enough to eliminate the black–white achievement gap.

However, evaluations of charters at the national level show that, on average, charter schools perform no better than traditional schools. In Massachusetts, for example, nonurban charter schools appear to lower test scores, which may be due to differences in curriculum or student demographics.

These results suggest that charter school expansion should be considered carefully, factoring in the composition and needs of the district’s student population, as well as the relative success of some charter school models over others.

Bottom line: Charter schools are not a panacea. The best charter school networks, like KIPP, are great. But as this article states, the average charter school performs at about the level of the average public school—and that’s not good. According to the recently released GradNation report, 30% of charter high schools have low graduation rates (less than 67%). They have also been implicated in the school to prison pipeline.


Will High School Graduation Rates Reach 90% by 2020?

The majority of black and brown high school students you encounter every day—a startling 63%—attend low-graduation-rate high schools.

In the “greatest nation in the world,” nearly 1 million students attend low-graduation-rate high schools—that is, schools that have an Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate of 67% or below, as defined by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

These sobering statistics are included in a report released by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University, in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education, the four organizations that lead the GradNation campaign.

The 2016 Building a Grad Nation report is the seventh annual update on the challenges states and school districts encounter in their efforts to increase high school graduation rates to 90% by 2020. To stay on track to reach that goal, the national graduation rate needs to increase by 1.3 percentage points annually. The year 2014 is the first year that the rate fell short, increasing just .9%.

If the needs of students who have historically been underserved—particularly students of color and low income students—are not addressed, the graduation rate of 90% will not be met in 2020. The emphasis must be on all students.

“Regardless of the type of school,” said John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises, in a statement, “we must insist upon results and ensure that every student receives a high quality education. We need to get beyond labels and get all students what they need to succeed.”

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According to the report, in 41 states low income students made up more than 40% of the enrollment in low-graduation-rate high schools; in 12 of those states, low income students made up more than 75% enrollment.

In 15 states, black students made up more than 40% of enrollment in high schools that have a graduation rate of 67% or less.

The report exposes the racial and socio-economic isolation of these underserved students, not only in regular district high schools, but also in charters (30% of which have low graduation rates), alternative schools (which serve at-risk students, 60% of whom are students of color), and virtual schools.

The report includes policy recommendations, including requiring states to develop evidence-based plans to improve low-graduation-rate high schools. It is distressing to note that some states do much better with difficult student populations than others. Would that ineffective states were required to explain why they are not using methods that other states have found more successful.

For more information about the 2016 GradNation report, visit this website.