California Charter Schools Association
The evidence on charter schools vs. traditional district-operated public schools is mixed. Most of the rosiest analyses report findings that "give cause for cautious optimism" at best. This report out of Los Angeles continues that tradition. Analysts examined data from California's 2006-2007 Academic Performance Index (API)--a measure of how schools perform on the state exam--in order to compare a sample of L.A. charters to the "three most similar traditional public schools" in their neighborhoods (similarity being based on racial composition, parental educational attainment, and poverty levels). They found that 49 percent (a lot, but still a minority) of charters studied had higher API increases from 2006 to 2007 than their three closest traditional schools. They also found that, on a district-wide level, charters did better at narrowing the achievement gap between black and white students (though not between Latinos and whites). Also interesting: mature charters (older than five years) performed significantly better than both young charters and traditional schools. This finding, the authors suggest, points to the wisdom of giving charter schools time to develop before making rash decisions regarding their worth. The study has its limitations, of course. The authors note that, "Being primarily a descriptive analysis, this report cannot provide an understanding of how significant the results discussed are." Readers should also be warned that the prevalence of confusing, California-specific jargon will make it tough slogging for the layperson and/or non-Californian. You can try to read the report here.