Stanford University's Caroline Hoxby just released, "How New York City's Charter Schools Affect Achievement," a project funded by the national Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Dept. of Education.
A few highlights of the report:
* A charter school student who attends grades K-8 will close 86% of the achievement gap in math and 66% of the achievement gap in English.
* Compared to lotteried-out students, a student who attends a charter high school has Regents examination scores that are about 3 pts higher for each year he spends in the charter school before taking the test.
* A student who attends a charter high school is about 7% more likely to earn a Regents diploma by age 20 for each year he spends in that school.
Unlike the CREDO study released earlier this summer, this Hoxby study uses the 'gold standard' of research, comparing students who made it into a charter school via a lottery and those who did not.
Of course just being in a charter school isn't a guarantee for increased student achievement. However, being in a charter school plus key features such as a longer school day, college prep mission, higher expectations and school culture do make a difference.
In the public discourse on 'turnaround' schools, converting the underperforming public school to charter status is one of the four options. Becoming a charter school is not a panacea. But charter schools have the freedom to design their own educational program and school culture. Under the pressure to perform or lose students, charter schools have often honed their curriculum to align with state standards and place an emphasis on student achievement--for every student. In urban areas, a longer school day and longer school year ensure students without a strong family background to support a quality education has the opportunity to increase learning.
Pundits are quick to rush to judgment about charter schools with each bit of research that comes out. It's important to remember the type of study that's being used when forming opinions. Data can be used to say anything. Quality studies use well-respected methodologies to ensure the outcome isn't biased. Further, research funded by the Institute for Education Sciences, for example, carries more credibility than individual institution research.