Charter Students Outperform Their Traditional Public School Peers

Lindsey Burke /

Students who entered and won a lottery to attend a charter school in New York outperformed their peers who entered the lottery but did not win a spot and instead enrolled in a traditional public school. According to new research by Stanford Professor Caroline Hoxby, which is highlighted today in both the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, students attending charter schools in New York outperform their peers who remained in traditional public schools in math and reading.

New York Charter school students, which typically come from disadvantaged families, scored nearly as well as students enrolled in the affluent Scarsdale school district. According to the study:

On average, a student who attended a charter school for all of grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86 percent of the ‘Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap’ in math and 66 percent of the achievement gap in English.

Ms. Hoxby’s study used the most rigorous research method possible. The New York Times points out:

Charter schools, which are privately run but publicly financed, have been faring well on standardized tests in recent years. But skeptics have discounted their success by accusing them of “creaming” the best students, saying that the most motivated students and engaged parents are the ones who apply for the spots.

The study’s methodology addresses that issue by comparing charter school students with students of traditional schools who applied for charter spots but did not get them.

This rigorous “gold standard” methodology is the same as that used by Dr. Patrick Wolf, who authored the federally-mandated evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, finding that students who received vouchers through the OSP made gains in reading equivalent to 3.1 additional months of learning. These studies show that school choice produced powerful academic gains for students – whether in charter school or private school settings.

Not everyone is cheering the positive news, however. The WSJ reports:

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, argued that New York City’s charter schools aren’t representative of the nation’s, because the state caps charter schools and agencies vet them thoroughly before authorizing them, assuring they are of higher quality than elsewhere.

According to the Journal, 40,000 students are on a waitlist to attend one of New York’s 99 charter schools. More than half of all states have some form of charter cap, and the high demand for a spot in a charter school is also a testament to their effectiveness.

Hoxby’s study found that many of these schools had long school days and recognized exceptional teachers with merit pay.

The WSJ concluded with a quote from New York schools Chancellor Joel Klein:

We want to make New York City the Silicon Valley of charter schools.

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been vocal supporters of charter schools. In fact, access to the $4.35 billion “race to the top” fund in the ARRA is contingent upon a state encouraging charter school growth. Between the empirical evidence and the administration’s support, this could be the year for serious growth in the charter school movement – enhancing educational choice for families.