A RAND Corporation study of charter schools in eight states shows mixed results for academic performance and college entrance rates. Denver was included in the study.
This makes sense because the diversity amongst public charter schools is a hallmark of the charter school movement. For example, in Colorado there are charter schools serving adjudicated youth, pregnant and parenting teens and those that can take only students who have officially dropped out of (more than 30 days without attending) the public education system. Conversely, there are charter schools focused on preparing students for a rigorous, four-year college education.
The study did show that charter schools that have been in operation longer tend to do better. Again, this is common sense because the first year of a charter school the principal is also focused on making sure someone is available to fix toilets, the cash flow is sufficient for school needs and teachers have the resources they need each day.
Oftentimes charter schools hire young or inexperienced teachers because they can better afford an entry-level salary. It takes awhile for a new school's staff to learn how to work effectively and productively together and learn the charter school's unique vision and mission.
Probably the greatest difficulty in a new charter school is the tight budget. In addition to regular operating costs, a new charter school must equip the school with desks, textbooks, white boards, computers and all of the other necessary equipment required to run a school. Moreover, these schools operate with less per student funding from the state because they also finance their facilities with the per student amount.
The RAND study had difficulty gaining academic information from most elementary schools because Kindergarten base line data wasn't available. The results for middle school and high school-aged charter school students were mixed. This is probably related to the wide variety of educational programs offered at those levels. Elementary schools tend to be more similar in design.
The findings in this study closely relate to the findings of the 2005 State Evaluation of Charter Schools, which found that in grades 3-8 charter schools tended to outperform their non-charter public school counterparts, while the inverse was true for high school CSAP scores. The nature of the educational program was likely a significant factor in these outcomes.