In-depth Analysis of the Effects of Choice on Student Achievement in Charter Schools

    With the growth of the charter school movement, many are eager to know if charter school students do better than students in regular public schools. This project investigates that question, specifically analyzing student achievement in Chicago, Florida, and New York City. The analysis is based on randomization, making use of the fact that charter schools with more applicants than openings hold admissions lotteries to decide which students may enroll. Thus, the students who are in the charter schools have been “lotteried in” and the comparison students are “lotteried out” and attending regular public schools..

    In July 2007 this project released a series of 44 reports on student achievement in New York City’s charter schools. Based on data from the 2000-01 through 2005-06 school years, the reports show that New York City charter schools tend to locate in disadvantaged neighborhoods and serve students who are substantially poorer than the average public school student there. The schools also attract black applicants to an unusual degree--relative not only to the city, but also to the regular public schools from which they draw. NYC charter school students test slightly better in math and reading than their peers in regular public schools. Specifically, the average charter school effect in math is 0.09 standard deviations and in reading is 0.04 standard deviations for every year a student spends in charter school.

    For schools in Chicago, early findings indicate clear positive effects on the math and reading test scores of students who enter charter schools in kindergarten through 5th grade. In Florida, preliminary results reveal a unique school choice environment, in which a tapestry of several programs offers students a variety of opportunities--charter schools, virtual schools, tax-credit-funded scholarships, scholarships for disabled students, and until recently, scholarships for students from failing public schools. Some have voiced concern that under a tapestry approach students might self-segregate, but research in Florida shows little evidence for this.

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The NCSC is funded by a 5 year, $13.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. Its lead institution is Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The center is housed on the campus of Peabody College, one of the nation's top graduate schools of education.