A study on urban charter schools, released by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University in March 2015, presents clear evidence that high-quality schools of choice can lift student achievement at scale in big cities.
“This research shows that many urban charter schools are providing superior academic learning for their students, in many cases quite dramatically better,” Margaret Raymond, the researcher who led the study, said at the time of the release. “These findings offer important examples of school organization and operation that can serve as models to other schools, including both public charter schools and traditional public schools.”
The study, supported by the Walton Family Foundation as part of our research and evaluation strategy, found that in the 41 cities studied, charter school students are, on average, gaining the equivalent of 40 additional days of learning in math and 28 days of additional learning in reading compared to matched peers in traditional public schools. The longer students stay enrolled in urban charters, the more progress they make: by their fourth year enrolled, students are gaining 108 days of learning in math and 72 days in reading, on average.
The news is especially promising for the most disadvantaged students. African-American students in urban charters are gaining 36 days of learning in math and 26 days in reading compared to their traditional public school peers. Low-income African-American charter students are gaining even more — 59 days of learning in math and 44 days in reading. Hispanic English Language Learners in urban charters are gaining 72 days in math and 79 days in reading.
While urban charters are helping many students excel, the news from CREDO was not all positive: the researchers found that while most cities’ charters produce consistently strong results, 10 urban charter sectors produce smaller gains than traditional public schools in reading and 11 produce smaller gains in math.
The foundation took two primary lessons from the results:
- All children — including those who face the most daunting odds — can learn given the right opportunities.
- When families, educators, and policy makers work together, they are capable of fostering environments that breed academic excellence, benefiting all students.
There is much to learn from this research. There is also much more to study: what makes some schools more or less successful? What policies and practices position a city as a strong (or weak) charter school environment? What can traditional public schools and districts and other charter schools learn from successful urban charters?