The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Literature


The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement coverThree
years ago
, Julian Betts and Emily Tang surveyed the charter-effect
literature, finding “large-scale heterogeneity in program efficacy”: Some
schools outperformed their district peers while others floundered in
comparison—though the overall effect of charters was still positive. This
updated meta-analysis of charter-effect studies shows that little has changed
since 2008. Evaluating all experimental (lottery-comparison) or student-growth studies,
the authors find favorable charter-school effects (even when studies of KIPP
schools were scrubbed from the dataset) for elementary and middle school math.
(The effect on elementary and middle school reading is also positive, but not
significantly so; those on high school reading and math are minimal.) And for
other factors, like attendance rates and behavior, charter effects are
significantly positive. Further delineating the studies, Betts and Tang find
urban charters to be more able to lift student achievement than their suburban
peers—especially schools in Boston and New York. Yet, even with three years’
more data in hand, the authors caveat their findings: The research landscape is
still sparse, they explain, with studies limited by sample size, geographic narrowness,
and a disproportionate focus on the KIPP schools. To really understand the
variance of charter-school success, it will be imperative to undertake
school-level research meant to ID specific successful practices. Still, to
those who continue to insist that charter schools “don’t work” we say: “You’re

Julian R. Betts and Y. Emily Tang, “The
Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the
.” (Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, October

Laura Johnson is a Research Intern at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute