- Overall achievement of black and Hispanic students has improved in urban areas with a larger “market share” of charter schools, according to a new Thomas B. Fordham Institute report, which draws from a nationwide data source of over 13,000 school districts. The analysis found little impact on the performance of white students.
- In areas where 50% of black students attend charter schools, the report shows an average 0.8 grade-level increase in performance in English language arts and an average 0.7 grade-level increase in math achievement for all students, including those in traditional public schools. The author, David Griffith, a senior research and policy associate at Fordham, also reports similar results for Hispanic students in suburban and rural areas, and for black students in rural districts.
- Combined with other studies that have shown benefits of charter schools for students of color, Griffith writes that it would be “simply wrong to stand in the way of charters’ continued growth in these communities if closing racial achievement gaps is truly the goal.”
The findings portray a very different picture of what the teachers’ unions and several Democratic presidential candidates have been saying about charter schools — that they hurt and drain resources from traditional schools while not being held to the same regulations.
But long before views toward charters became so polarized, one of the original expectations behind the model was that they would inform the overall education field. And while district-charter collaboration doesn’t seem to get as much attention as teacher walkouts and moves to limit charter growth, there are plenty of examples of charter and traditional schools learning from each other.
“To have a meaningful impact on nationwide achievement gaps, charter school approaches would need to be adopted beyond the charter sector itself,” Sarah Cohodes of Teachers College at Columbia University wrote in a 2018 issue of The Future of Children. “Any interventions that are built around using charter schools to close achievement gaps should focus not on the type of school but on the practices that work in the most effective charter schools.”
Another explanation is that traditional schools, feeling pressure to maintain enrollment when faced with charter growth, have worked to remain competitive. Some experts recommend that traditional public schools focus on what their students and families want. In other places, states and districts have moved to give traditional schools more flexibility, which might allow schools to try innovative approaches focused on improving achievement.
Griffith writes that there are limitations to his findings. For example, the report focuses on seven years of data, which may not fully capture the impact of charter growth on traditional public schools.