Student Achievement in Massachusetts??? Charter Schools

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Click to listen to commentary on the report from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

HGSE charter schools report coverWeary of studies that lump
charter schools together and treat them as a monolithic entity? This one,
conducted by top-notch researchers at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research and MIT takes a step in the right direction
by parsing effects for urban and nonurban charter schools in Massachusetts. The
report is a follow-up to two earlier evaluations that were limited to schools in Boston
and Lynn. Once again, analysts conduct both a lottery analysis (comparing
students accepted to oversubscribed charters with those who weren’t) and an
expanded observational study (comparing students in middle and high school
charters operating in the Bay State between 2002 and 2009, including the
undersubscribed schools, to those who attended traditional public schools).
Overall, the lottery analysis found that charter middle schools boost average
math scores but have little impact on average English language arts (ELA) scores.
But when the data were disaggregated by school type, researchers found that urban
charter middle schools show significant positive effects on ELA and math
scores. Nonurban middle schools have the opposite impact: zero to negative
effect on a student’s ELA and math state test scores. In fact, while urban
charter schools do especially well with minority and low-income students and
moderately well for white students, nonurban middle schools fail to show gains
for any demographic subgroup, and even post some negative effects for
white students. Delving further, the authors survey school administrators, the
results showing that the successful urban charter schools tend to have longer
days, spend about twice as much time on language and math instruction as
nonurban schools, are more likely to ask parents and
students to sign contracts, and identify with the “no excuses” view on education. The differences in
achievement between the two types of charters, then, should come as little surprise.

Joshua D. Angrist, Sarah R. Cohodes, Susan M.
Dynarski, Jon B. Fullerton, Thomas J. Kane, Parag A. Pathak, and Christopher
R. Walters, “Student
Achievement in Massachusetts’ Charter Schools
,” (Cambridge, MA: Center for
Education Policy Research at Harvard University, January 2011).

Amber M. Northern, Ph.D.
Amber M. Northern, Ph.D. is a Senior Vice President for Research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute