A new study out this week yields some staggering results: A segment of public charter school students are overwhelmingly outperforming their counterparts in other public schools.
The Center for Research on Education Outcomes reports that the 107,000 students whose schools receive support from the Charter School Growth Fund gain, on average, the equivalent of four additional months of learning in math and three additional months of learning in reading each year when compared to peers in other public schools. CSGF is a national nonprofit that supports charter schools to help expand them into multi-school networks.
What do these schools have in common? First, they are part of a nonprofit charter school network like Uncommon Schools, Houston Gateway, or KIPP LA. And second, they were selected to receive philanthropic support to grow from my team at CSGF because, based on their track records, these nonprofits were likely to open more quality schools.
Student gains in these schools are consistent across a broad range of students: black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, English language learners, and special education students.
These are the types of results we should imagine and demand for our kids when we talk about improving public schools, but they are rare in K-12 education.
Students in CSGF Schools Outperform Peers in Other Charter and District Schools
Networks of high-performing charter schools use their size to tackle hard problems in public education, like supporting students with special needs. And they use their nimbleness to change course when it can help kids.
Positive data about charter schools are often dismissed with various accusations and insinuations that the results aren’t real — that students would have succeeded no matter what because of selection bias.
Broadly, in the charter school sector, CREDO shows that the longer students attend schools in charter networks (referred to as CMOs in the table), the greater their gains. For example, in math, students attending schools in charter networks gain, on average, about 34 more days of learning in their first year than similar students in traditional district schools. By their third year in that school, they gain 69 additional days of learning — roughly twice the growth.
Results for CMOs Per CREDO Study: Students Who Stay in Charter School Networks for Longer Periods of Time Have Stronger Growth
These findings confirm earlier research by CREDO in 2013 that found that students who stay in charter schools for longer periods of time have stronger growth than students in traditional public schools.
The CREDO results show what we all know to be true: Good schools make a huge difference in the lives of kids. Unfortunately, not every child has access to a quality public school.
The report also reveals that our most underserved students are better off in public schools that marry high expectations with thoughtful supports, like those schools supported by CSGF.
These findings are so important at a time when students of color comprise the majority of our nation’s public school system and many believe poverty and race are insurmountable obstacles to learning.
Our schools are not perfect. Educating students is hard. And academic achievement is just one way we help our children thrive and become their best selves. Quality charter schools have a lot more work ahead of them.
But these results are big. The charter schools supported by CSGF in this study would be the 26th largest public school system in America, based on calculated enrollment of 107,109 students. And since the time of CREDO’s last-referenced data (2014–15), CSGF’s schools have grown to educate more than 300,000 students in 24 states. None of these schools existed two decades ago.
They exist today because communities encouraged the best charter schools to educate more students, even in the face of stiff opposition.
Charter schools have been a controversial topic, but not among families who want better schools for their kids. Families don’t care if their public school is a charter or district school. They just want great schools.
Communities should support the best schools, both district and charter, to educate more families. The CREDO study is the latest addition to a growing body of evidence that quality charter school networks are a proven path to creating great public schools.
Alex Hernandez is a partner at the Charter School Growth Fund, a nonprofit that supports the growth of the nation’s best public charter schools. He is a former high school math teacher and lives with his family near Boulder, Colorado.
The Walton Family Foundation and the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund are supporters of The 74 and the Charter School Growth Fund, and funded the CREDO study.