Latest finding: Districts are increasingly cooperating with charter schools

A growing body of research suggests charter schools provide a good quality education relative to the traditional district schools from which their students transferred. This is especially true for low-income and minority students – the primary beneficiary of most charter schools nationwide.

A new report by Will Dobbie of Princeton and Roland Fryer of Harvard, shows significant achievement gains for low-income students in Harlem attending charter schools. Importantly, these low-income students are far more likely to attend college than their traditional school peers.

How do school districts respond?

Even the CREDO report from Stanford University now states that charter schools, on balance, provide a slightly higher quality education.  The study finds that students in poverty attending charter schools gain an extra 14 days of learning for reading and 22 days of extra learning in math. English language learners in charter schools gain an additional 43 days of learning in reading and 36 days in mathematics. The much misunderstood CREDO report in 2009 also found charter schools had a significant positive impact for students in poverty.

With solid academic achievement and a nationwide enrollment exceeding 2 million students, charter schools are gathering steam. So how do districts react when faced with competition from charters?

A new report in EducationNext, by researchers at the Walton Family Foundation and the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, attempts to answer that question.

The researchers selected 12 urban areas that had at least 60 percent minority student population and 60 percent low-income to create a more accurate comparison with the typical charter school population. They also limited their research to districts with a charter school enrollment that was at least 6 percent of the overall enrollment within the district. According to the article, Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University believes this threshold is high enough that districts will respond to competitive pressure.

After selecting the districts that met these criteria, the researchers combed through 8,000 newspaper articles to locate instances of districts reacting to competition from charter schools. When they discovered an example, the researchers reviewed district meeting minutes to uncover if and how the district responded.

They divided the responses into 13 action categories, some positive and some negative. Positive responses included replicating charter practices, collaborating with charter schools, creating pilot or innovation schools and expanding or improving school offerings. Negative responses included creating legal obstacles for charter schools, blocking access to facilities and using regulations to restrict choice and competition.

The most common response, found in 8 of the 12 districts, was to collaborate with charters. The most common negative response, found in 3 of the 12 districts, was to restrict access to facilities (i.e., refuse to share unused space or school buildings with charter schools). Overall, the researchers discovered that the districts had more positive responses than negative ones.

Overall this is a good sign, though more research needs to be done as charter schools – and the school choice movement – expand. School districts should always put students first, whether or not they educate the child. By collaborating with and emulating successful charter schools – rather than blocking and fighting – school districts can make an even bigger impact on student achievement.

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BY Patrick R. Gibbons

Patrick Gibbons is public affairs manager at Step Up for Students and a research fellow for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. A former teacher, he lived in Las Vegas, Nev., for five years, where he worked as an education writer and researcher. He can be reached at (813) 498.1991 or emailed at Follow Patrick on Twitter: at @PatrickRGibbons and @redefinEDonline.


What an embarrassing mixture of cherry picking and taking things out of context. Also the victims of mugging often cooperate with their muggers when a gun is pointed at them,.

Patrick R. Gibbons

In regards to the CREDO study there is no cherry picking, only careful reading of the report. You can do so here:

The CREDO report states (pg 3),

“The analysis of the pooled 27 states shows that charter schools now advance the learning gains of their students more than traditional public schools in reading. Improvement is seen in the academic growth of charter students in math, which is now comparable to the learning gains in traditional public schools.”

Digging deeper we can find significant performance boosts for minority and low-income students as well as significant variations between states.

Black students in charters get an extra 7 days of learning in reading (p 32). For low-income charter school students the advantage is 14 days of extra learning in reading and 22 days in math (p. 36-37).

English Language Learner students in charter schools see a 43 day learning advantage over traditional public school students in reading and an extra 36 days advantage in math (p. 38).

You should also be aware that CREDO itself notes there are wide variations between states and even within states. The differences in results are due to many things including funding, regulation, curriculum requirements and the experience of the schools and educators and how long students attend charter schools.

For example, D.C. charter students average an extra 99 days of learning while New York City students average an extra 92 days of learning (p. 80).

Attending a Louisiana charter school for several years in a row has a significant advantage. A student attending 4-5 years at a charter school in Louisiana average about 180 days of learning in reading and math over public school students )

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