Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Explaining Charter School Effectiveness

I wrote about this new study on MA charter schools in my email of Aug. 23rd:


I haven't read this entire study yet, but this looks very interesting and important, highlighting that not all charter schools are great, but inner-city, "no excuses" schools are, overall, making a big difference:


Explaining Charter School Effectiveness

Joshua D. AngristParag


A. Pathak

Christopher R. Walters

NBER Working Paper No. 17332
Issued in August 2011
NBER Program(s):   CH   ED   LS   PE 

Estimates using admissions lotteries suggest that urban charter schools boost student achievement, while charter schools in other settings do not. We explore student-level and school-level explanations for these differences using a large sample of Massachusetts charter schools. Our results show that urban charter schools boost achievement well beyond ambient non-charter levels (that is, the average achievement level for urban non-charter students), and beyond non-urban achievement in math. Student demographics explain some of these gains since urban charters are most effective for non-whites and low-baseline achievers. At the same time, non-urban charter schools are uniformly ineffective. Our estimates also reveal important school-level heterogeneity in the urban charter sample. A non-lottery analysis suggests that urban schools with binding, well-documented admissions lotteries generate larger score gains than under-subscribed urban charter schools with poor lottery records. We link the magnitude of charter impacts to distinctive pedagogical features of urban charters such as the length of the school day and school philosophy. The relative effectiveness of urban lottery-sample charters is accounted for by over-subscribed urban schools' embrace of the No Excuses approach to education.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Here's an EdWeek story about it, with further details:

A new Massachusetts study suggests that charter schools located in urban communities there significantly improved their students' mathematics and language arts performance on state assessments, while nonurban charter schools did not, and, in some cases, even appeared to hurt students academically.

… "There seems to be growing consensus around something that makes schools like KIPP unique," said Robin J. Lake, the associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, referring to the Knowledge Is Power Program network of charter schools. "It certainly is related to extended learning time and discipline, but also to very high expectations for kids."

"These urban schools are seeing this intensive urgency to get these kids who are way behind up to level, whereas the suburban schools are seeing their mission differently," said Ms. Lake, whose Seattle-based center, affiliated with the University of Washington Bothell, oversees the National Charter School Research Project, which was not affiliated with Massachusetts charter study.

…Urban charters improved their students' math and language arts scores from the bottom quarter of the class to the mean for all urban public school students. Black, poor, and very low-performing students showed the greatest improvement.

By contrast, while students attending nonurban charter schools started out with test scores slightly above the average of their peers attending regular public schools, their performance in high school was flat, and in middle school actually regressed to the average.

"The [urban] charters take a population which starts at a low baseline, … so they don't get above the suburban population, but they do get quite close, and that achievement is remarkable," Mr. Angrist said.

…More than 70 percent of urban charter administrators said they fully or partially followed a "no excuses" charter model—popularized by national charter groups such as the San Francisco-based KIPP and the New York City-based Uncommon Schools—that focuses on intense math and reading instruction, extended learning time, discipline, and parent involvement. No nonurban charters identified with the approach.

Among the differences the study found:

         On average, urban charter school years lasted five days longer and their school days were 42 minutes longer than those at nonurban charters, with 35 more minutes a day spent on math and 40 minutes more on reading.

         More than 80 percent of urban charters required parents to sign a contract pledging their involvement with the school, compared with 46 percent of nonurban charters.

         Sixty-five percent of urban charters used a formal discipline and reward system, compared with 18 percent of their nonurban peers.

·         Urban charter schools were also more likely to pay for supplemental tutors and Saturday school for students.

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