For-profit charter schools are less likely to improve student achievement than nonprofit charter schools or traditional public schools, according to a new report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).
On average, nonprofit charter schools — which represent the majority of charter schools in the U.S. — offer their students the equivalent of 23 more days of math instruction and six more days of reading instruction than for-profits, the report found.
“We can say confidently that nonprofit schools have a significantly stronger growth than for-profit schools,” James Woodworth, the study’s lead analyst, said during a media call Tuesday.
The study analyzed charter schools’ impact on student academic growth and achievement in math and reading, using data from the 2011–12 to 2014–15 school years across 24 states, New York City, and Washington, D.C. The report was funded by the Walton Family Foundation.
For-profit charter schools don’t stack up well against traditional public schools, either: CREDO found that students attending for-profit charters have weaker growth in math and similar growth in reading.
The report also found that online charter schools have “abysmal” performance in math and a “negative” effect on students’ reading levels.
“In every category, the online schools’ [results] are extremely negative,” Woodworth said. “These are very large, very negative effects.”
According to the report, 82 percent of charter school students attend nonprofit charter schools, which have similar student demographics as for-profits. The study found that for-profit charter schools are less likely to have English language learners or Asian students and more likely to have multiracial students.
CREDO’s results are likely to stoke the divisions among reform-oriented groups over the accountability of charter schools of all types.
“Today’s CREDO report demonstrates that the charter sector continues to improve and many networks are delivering amazing results for children, but too often failing schools are allowed to replicate and serve communities despite their poor record,” Greg Richmond, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said in a statement. “Authorizers have tremendous powers to improve the overall quality of charter schools in their cities and states. Armed with CREDO’s data, they should continue to seek out both strong networks and independent charters and enable them to serve more students.”
CREDO’s researchers also looked at the differences in academic performance among independent charter schools, networks of three schools or more run by charter management organizations, schools operated by vendors, and hybrids that are operated by vendors on behalf of CMOs.
The worst results came from independently managed charter schools. Only about 30 percent of those schools perform better than traditional public schools in terms of student growth in math, while 42 percent perform the same and 28 percent perform worse. In reading, 29 percent perform better, 51 percent perform the same, and 20 percent perform worse.
Among charter schools that are part of a network or CMO, 41 percent perform better than their traditional public school counterparts in math, 34 percent perform the same, and 25 percent perform worse. In reading, 37 percent of network charter schools outperform district schools, while 43 percent have equal results and 20 percent perform worse.
“The low-performing networks and the traditional public schools can borrow practices from the high-performing networks,” Woodworth said.
Hybrids, which researchers said represent a tiny fraction of the charter sector, perform the best. More than half outperform traditional district schools in math, while 30 percent perform the same and 19 percent are rated worse than their district counterparts. Only 6 percent of hybrid charter schools perform worse than traditional public schools in reading.
The report also looked at what researchers call “super networks,” large charter management organizations that often operate schools in more than one state. Networks such as KIPP and Uncommon Schools showed positive gains for students, while the for-profit chain K12, Inc., and the nonprofit network Big Picture Learning showed negative effects on student learning in both math and reading.
Schools supported by the Charter School Growth Fund, a national nonprofit that gives money to charter schools, also showed significant gains in student learning in reading and math, the report found.
“CREDO’s findings show that charter school networks are an important way to create quality public schools for kids and families,” Alex Hernandez, a Charter School Growth Fund partner, said in a statement. “These findings underscore the urgency of creating systems that encourage the best charter schools to grow and reach more families. Every child deserves a great public school in their community where they can thrive in and out of the classroom.”
The Walton Family Foundation provides financial support to The 74.