Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools

We are now in the twentieth year of charter schools and during that time a lot has been learned about those that work and those that fail. Roland G. Fryer of The Hamilton Project discusses some of the lessons learned in his new report Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools.

Fryer analyzed videos, surveys, and lottery data from 35 charter schools in New York City to distinguish practices that generate student achievement. He found that the traditional components districts link to success—class size, per pupil expenditure, percent of teachers with advanced degrees—were not related to high reading and math scores.

So what are successful charters doing differently compared to lower performers? Consistently high-achieving charter schools had five practices in common: 1) increased professional development; 2) data-driven instruction; 3) high-dosage, personalized instruction that targets curricula to the level of each student; 4) increased time on task; and 5) a strong emphasis on high academic expectations.

These methods are working for charters, and may also find success in traditional schools. Preliminary outcomes from pilot programs that implemented these strategies in Denver and Houston public district schools show a sharp increase in student achievement. Fryer acknowledges that all five components may not fit with each district. However, he is fervently optimistic that students in some of the lowest performing schools can improve their academic performance over the next eight years using these strategies—but at a per-pupil cost of about two thousand dollars per year.

With budget cuts across the board, states like Ohio may be wary of an additional expense. Luckily, as Fryer points out, one effective tool costs almost nothing: establishing an environment of high expectations for staff, faculty, and students. Although results from the public school pilot programs are still coming in, there is promise in these findings for charters and traditional schools alike.  

SOURCE: Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools (Washington D.C.: The Hamilton Project, September 2012).

Danyell Lewis is a Ohio Policy and Research Intern at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute