School features associated with student growth in New Orleans charter schools

Evidence continues to mount that students at urban charter schools are achieving higher academic growth than their traditional public school peers. Replicating successful models requires understanding what features of these charter schools are contributing to their gains. Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas and Shannon Lasserre-Cortez of American Institutes for Research have taken an important step in a recently published report for the U.S. Department of Education. In the study, they examine correlations between various school features and student achievement growth in New Orleans charter schools serving grades three through eight.

The study used school-level value-added scores in English language arts, math, and science for 2012–13 and 2013–14, provided by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). It included fourteen organizational, operational, and instructional features of schools as potential indicators of charter school effectiveness, using data provided by LDOE and the New Orleans Parents’ Guide, a local nonprofit. The analysts used regression analyses to determine the association of these indicators with variations in student achievement growth, as determined by value-added scores.

They found that during the 2012–13 school year, schools that included kindergarten, had an extended school year, and had more experienced teachers all had statistically significantly associations with growth in English language arts. Schools with kindergarten were also significantly associated with higher growth in math, a subject for which none of the other thirteen indicators had any effect. On the negative side, higher percentages of teachers with a graduate degree and higher student-teacher ratios were significantly associated with declines in ELA growth. Higher student-teacher ratios were also associated with declines in science growth, as were higher levels of support staff, such as speech and occupational therapists, counselors, and mentors.

The report does, however, note a number of limitations to the data. Most significantly, the analysts caution against any conclusions of causation, due to the non-experimental nature of the study. Additionally, all statistically significant findings for the 2012–13 school years were not statistically significant in 2013–14, further limiting conclusions. Finally, the study’s fourteen indicators excluded many relevant school characteristics for a variety of reasons. For example, tutoring and transportation were ubiquitous among New Orleans charters, eliminating those as viable variables. And others like higher expectations, school-leadership quality, and parent involvement lacked reliable data.

This exploratory study does not provide any concrete answers about which charter school features should be replicated to improve student learning. But the findings do provide valuable guidance for which school features warrant more rigorous study.

SOURCE: Patrick J. Wolf and Shannon Lasserre-Cortez, “An Exploratory Analysis of Feature of New Orleans Charter Schools Associated with Student Achievement Growth,” Institute of Education Sciences; U.S. Department of Education (January 2018).