Ron Zimmer, Brian Gill, Kevin Booker, Stephane Lavertu, Tim Sass, and John Witte
RAND Education
March 2009

This longitudinal study seeks to answer four questions: What are the characteristics of students transferring to charter schools? What effect do charter schools have on test-score gains for students who transfer in from traditional public schools (TPSs), and vice versa? What is the effect of attending a charter high school on the probability of graduating and entering college? And what effect does the introduction of charter schools have on test scores of students in nearby TPSs? Though there are 8 states represented in the dataset, the actual data used are drawn from three states (Florida, Ohio, and Texas) and five large urban districts (Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and San Diego). The findings are a mixed bag. For example, charter schools, for the most part, don't "skim off" the highest-achieving students but also don't tend to perform any better than TPSs (although performance does improve with the longevity of the school, as one would expect). To look at graduation rates, researchers focused on Florida and Chicago; in those two locales, there was a positive relationship between attendance at a charter middle school and the likelihood of graduating and enrolling in college. Finally, they found that charters have little competitive effects on nearby TPSs. In other words, their presence in the vicinity is unlikely to improve the quality of the TPS. While the study evaluated elementary, middle, and high school students, the findings are most reliable for middle and high schools. This is partly because the analysis was based on transfer students and elementary schools often have pupils (e.g. kindergarteners) who have never attended a non-charter school. This is a meaty report with loads more information, potentially useful to anyone with an interest in charter schools, albeit a lukewarm accolade for this education reform strategy. You can find it here.

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