Timothy J. Gronberg and Dennis W. Jansen
Texas Public Policy Foundation
As everyone's mother told them, it's important to make a good first impression. Yet for many education policy wonks, their first impression of charter schools in Texas was, generally, not very good. (Importantly, this is true for U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, whose lukewarm feelings toward charters were surely formed in her Texas days.) True, there are a few standouts, such as the original KIPP Academy in Houston, but on the whole, Lone Star State charters leave much to be desired. That's the rap. Is it true? Well, let's look a little deeper. According to this study by two Texas A&M professors, Texas charters are making the same strong gains in student achievement that we find in other places (see the recent news from Pittsburgh, for example). Specifically, academic gains for Texas elementary and middle school students who stay in charter schools for several years are significantly higher than those for their matched peers in traditional district-operated schools. This is especially true for charter students at the lower end of the achievement spectrum. (The study's authors rely heavily on the methodological trail first cut by Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby, which compares charters with schools that their students would have attended, rather than a less-precise comparison with all public schools in the district.) Why, then, is the wrong impression so widespread? As in many states, Texas charter schools post test scores that are, in the absolute, lower on average than traditional public schools. So the common headline - "Charters lag behind traditional public schools, but are closing the gap" - is true for Texas, too. To view the report, which also provides an in-depth analysis of charter demographics, trends in growth, and a look at "competitive effects" on district schools, surf to www.TexasPolicy.com.