Current Literature on Charter Schools
May 15, 2024 10:27 AM   Subscribe

What are folks' takes on recent (maybe last 3-4 years) studies, essays, and other interventions about the marginal efficacy of charter schools vs traditional public schools, and about the long-term benefits and risks of school districts encouraging charter schools while maintaining traditional public schools?

I'm aware that this is a decades-long debate. I'm asking for recent important interventions to help me weigh my decisions about whether or not to support financing for some charter school facility construction projects in my district.

Is there recent literature supporting funding "good" charters in poor districts where public schools chronically fail, while staying loyal in terms of policy to the traditional vision of public education, and stamping out support for "white flight" charters?

All-out charter enthusiasts won't persuade me -- I'm convinced that charters are generally a cancer on public schools. What I'm looking for is recent work supporting the notion that some excellent charters are good for some challenged public school districts under special circumstances. Is there recent compelling work supporting that that you can share?
posted by Scarf Joint to Education (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: A large recent study from Stanford University researchers got a lot of attention; the same group had previously found that charter schools did, overall, worse than traditional schools, but the new study found that charter schools did better. However, the overall differences are relatively small, and of course there's a huge amount of variation among both traditional and charter schools.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:42 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Not super recent I'm afraid but this issue has burst open in New Zealand this week as the the new govt (a far-right libertarian and religious coalition - every bit as mad as the Milei govt) are rolling out a charter school program that looks like the rapid shuffling of a lot of money into the private sector, and with the education Ministry sidelined and excluded from any aspect - including child safety. (There are parallel attacks on gay and trans rights, the environment and other sectors, including attacks on public road space for non-cars. I have 5 minutes to present to Parliament tomorrow morning on enviro, and planning law.)

Courtney 2017 Unpacking the initial development of New Zealand’s charter schools Waikato Journal of Education "This article concentrates on the initial development of the New Zealand charter school model from December 2011 to September 2013 .. Overall, the article questions whether there was any genuine evidence to support the introduction of the charter school concept into the New Zealand school system".

When CS's were last running there was a reported lack of educational outcomes and the financial oversight. The subsequent Labour government halted the charter school program. Paper needs reading in depth as it also refers to finance of CS's as (at least in 2012) there was offshore 'investment CS's and our Reserve Bank became involved.

Comment in paper from the NZ teachers union PPTA "the Charter Schools Working Group has been unable to name a single example of an “innovation” that lifts achievement that isn’t already operating in a New Zealand public school."

Thrupp et al 2020 Private actors in New Zealand schooling: The path to saturation I've not read this yet, it's a joint NZ Finnish study (that also indicated CS have wider aims than just education), but the tone of this abstracvt is a deep concern over the commercialisation of education in CS.

My GSholar search: "charter schools" "auckland" "new zealand" "educational outcomes" daterange: 2019-2023 60 hits. I put auckland as a lot of schools there.

In NZ it is difficult to trust anything written about CS as many papers published from the university sector are from libertarian and/or religious think tanks and 'institutes' - and on deeper reading sound no different from politicians pushing CS.
posted by unearthed at 12:04 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Article published in Educational Policy in 2023 that focused Washington D.C. (if you use Google Scholar it links to this pdf version) because the city has an "established sector of charter schools that have operated in the city since 1996 and now enroll about half of all K-12 public students." (!!!) And their conclusion (edited to remove the citations for readability):
More generally, our paper helps answer whether ostensible appeals to equity from policymakers, particularly those related to structural and racial injustices, have truly manifested themselves in meaningful change via school choice reforms’ designs, implementations, and outcomes. At this point at least, the answer is ‘‘no.’’ For this to change, the District would need to fundamentally shift the framing of school choice, from emphasizing equal rights to choose to ensuring equal abilities to access. Adopting a capability-oriented lens suggests many ways that District policymakers can improve school access by targeting structural inequalities tied to race, place, and income: expanded public transit supports for low- income students, such as dedicated busing programs; the generation of affordable and transit-connected housing via transit-oriented development; and heavily prioritized enrollment preferences for historically marginalized students. Until such a critical approach is taken, policies like the District’s charter reform may continue to disproportionately benefit the already privileged, almost all of whom are White.
This more measured aggregated assessment is from a 2021 textbook "Nearly three decades into the charter school movement, what has research told us about charter schools?" (pdf on some random site), so not as recent as you would like, but you might be able to use the bibliography as a jumping off point to track current research:
In sum, the research results have not lived up to the hopes nor the fears of the advocates nor critics. Going forward, because charter schools have been recently employed as a means of improving chronically low-performing schools through turnaround polices, there needs to be more research in a broader set of locations on the effectiveness of charter schools as a turnaround policy. Currently, there are only a handful of studies largely concentrated in New Orleans and Tennessee.
... Finally, while researchers have made initial attempts to understand the variation in charter school effectiveness, they have generally used easily attainable information such as charter school type (e.g., CMO, no excuse, conversion, startup, online) and basic charter school features (e.g., longer school day or longer school year) to draw their conclusions. Going forward, researchers needs to do the difficult work of collecting more nuanced information about schools in terms of instructional practices, curriculum, school environment, etc., before we can draw strong conclusion about promising practices.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:19 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Here's a start.
posted by jgirl at 2:02 PM on May 15


Best answer: Charter schools cherry pick students and families who they think will be easy and low cost to educate, and create strategies to avoid those they determine will need more resources: students with disabilities, students who need behavioral supports, and students of color, based on family name and keywords in application inquiries.

https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w25396/w25396.pdf

By courting “low-expenditure” students and removing their capitated funds from traditional public schools, they cause “higher-expenditure” students to be retained in traditional public schools without adequate resources to serve them appropriately.
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:16 PM on May 15 [9 favorites]


Best answer: A review of evidence on KIPP schools, the largest national charter school organization. "KEY FINDINGS: KIPP elementary and middle schools produced sizable, statistically significant effects on reading and math achievement – increases of between 5 and 10 percentile points (compared to the control group) – as measured two to three years after random assignment. One of the middle school RCTs estimated KIPP’s long-term effects, and found suggestive (not statistically significant) evidence of a 4 percentage point increase in four-year college enrollment, but no discernible effect on four-year college persistence (i.e., enrollment through six consecutive semesters)."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:03 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Best answer: The CREDO study that Mr.Know-it-some posted in the first reply is the gold standard right now for US-focused research on charter vs. traditional models.

You should also use the breadcrumb technique and follow the trail of papers that the authors of the CREDO pieces cite. There is quite a bit there. Start with their literature review and follow threads that seem interesting.
posted by yellowcandy at 1:14 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: Thank you all -- much reading to do -- very happy to plunge in. Super helpful!
posted by Scarf Joint at 8:16 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


There is a wide variation on the “quality” of private, public, and charter schools in the U.S. Even determining “quality” is a nebulous concept… is it “better” to attend a school with higher average test scores that teaches to the test or attend a school with lower average test scores that doesn’t teach to the test? And that’s assuming standardized tests metrics are the appropriate outcome to measure.

Unfortunately, students’ socioeconomic status is the most predictive factor for “academic success” in the US.

Charter schools are almost always going to have some sort of “selection effect.” For instance, most charter schools require parental involvement to select the school. Charter schools can also be technically open enrollment / lottery based, but make policies that are less welcoming to students who are likely more difficult to teach (e.g. don’t offer bus service). Some one in your area might make the argument that a specific charter school might make your school district more desirable for “middle class” families to stay in the public school system. This is possible. Generally speaking, it is a good thing for kids to attend diverse schools. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds particularly benefit from attending diverse schools. Students from advantaged backgrounds are not hurt by attending diverse schools.
posted by oceano at 7:28 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]


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