All across the United States students sit on charter school waiting lists. Despite this the Fall of 2013 is a good time to be a school choice advocate. The empirical case for school choice continues to grow. Parents and students across the country have been empowered. Detractors will continue to claim school choice is a corporate Republican plot, but each day that becomes less and less believable. Prominent Democrats from across the country continue to flock towards school choice. Democratic mayors, tired of failing schools in their cities, are some of the strongest supporters. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who is currently running for Senate, is one prominent example. Despite attacks from publications like Salon and New Republic Booker is sticking to his guns and continues to advocate for school choice even with election day upon us. Indeed, it is a good time to be a school choice advocate.
In June the Stanford University CREDO team released the latest report for their National Charter School Study. This report shows that charter schools are showing significant educational gains, particularly among the least well off. This is especially significant because school choice detractors used the 2009 CREDO report to extensively attack charter schools. The 2013 CREDO report offers vindication for those who support school choice, and the report’s positive conclusions have left school choice detractors attacking the CREDO team. In this latest report the CREDO team has found that:
On average, students attending charter schools have eight additional days of learning in reading and the same days of learning in math per year compared to their peers in traditional public schools. In both subjects, the trend since 2009 is on an upward trajectory, with the relative performance of the charter sector improving each year.
Charter schools are showing significant gains over traditional district schools. Furthermore, these gains are not equally distributed.
Related results for different student groups indicate that black students, students in poverty, and English language learners benefit from attending charter schools . . . Black students in poverty who attend charter schools gain an additional 29 days of learning in reading and 36 days in math per year over their TPS counterparts. This shows the impact of charter schooling is especially beneficial for black students who in poverty.
Charter schools are delivering superior results among those groups who have traditionally been most impacted by the achievement gap.
More recently the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics published a paper titled “Explaining Charter School Effectiveness.” This paper specifically looked at the effectiveness of charters in urban areas and found that “estimates show that students at urban charters are typical of the urban student population, and that urban charter attendance boosts achievement well beyond ambient noncharter levels.” Once again the evidence shows that charters are delivering in precisely the places where parents and students need educational options.
This paper not only focuses on school performance, but also attempts to determine which pedagogy correlates with student performance. The study authors found that, “urban and lottery-sample charter effectiveness can be explained by adherence to a No Excuses approach to urban education . . . No Excuses schools are more likely to feature strict discipline, uniforms, and cold-calling, to employ alumni of the Teach for America (TFA) program, and to videotape lessons for teacher feedback.” Schools that focus on teacher feedback, high expectations, and increased instructional time are providing the model for successful urban education.
A final study in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, “Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence From New York City,” further supports the conclusions of the other studies. After examining 39 charter schools the authors found that, “measures associated with a traditional resource-based model of education—class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no teaching certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree—are not correlated with school effectiveness in our sample.” Instead the authors found that other factors better explained differences in performance. The authors found that “an index of 5 policies suggested by 40 years of qualitative case studies—frequent teacher feedback, data driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and a relentless focus on academic achievement—explains roughly half of the variation in school effectiveness.” Highly effective charter schools are showing the way forward in urban education. Teacher feedback, increased instruction time, and an endless focus on achievement pave a path towards school excellence.
Students still sit on charter school waiting lists all across the country. Current policy focuses on keeping open failing schools instead of expanding the schools where students are stuck waiting for spots. Notwithstanding these barriers the dam blocking the river of choice has begun to crumble. Students and parents have experienced the power of choice, and the large numbers of students on waiting lists show that even more parents desire the empowerment that choice brings.