Study Says N.Y.C. Charters Help Disadvantaged Pupils Catch Up

By Debra Viadero — September 22, 2009 1 min read
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A study out this morning suggests that New York City’s charter schools are helping to close achievement gaps between disadvantaged minority students and their white, more-affluent counterparts elsewhere.

The much-anticipated study, led by Stanford University researcher Caroline Hoxby and colleagues, focuses on 78 charters. On average, it finds, students who attended a charter school from kindergarten through 8th grade would close about 86 percent of what Hoxby calls the “Scarsdale-Harlem” achievement gap in math and 66 percent of the gap in English. (The “Scarsdale-Harlem” achievement gap refers to the 35- to 40-point spread between poor, minority students in Harlem and their peers in the affluent suburb of Scarsdale, N.Y.)

In comparison, students who applied to attend a charter school but failed to get in, while making educational progress over the same grade span, would end up in 8th grade having fallen further behind more-advantaged peers, according to the study.

The study also finds that charter high school students are 7 percent more likely to earn a Regents diploma by age 20 for each year spent in that school.

These are large effects, and they contrast with the somewhat gloomier results posted earlier this year in a much larger, 15-state study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which is also at Stanford. (See this EdWeek story for details on that study.) But I haven’t yet had time to sort out the reasons for the conflicting results. Look for a more thorough story later today on

In the meantime, a nice feature of Hoxby’s study is that she tries to take a look at what charter schools might be doing differently to bring about these encouraging results.The promising practices she identified include: a long school year; more time on English instruction; teacher pay based somewhat on performance or duties, rather than a traditional pay scale; an emphasis on academics; and a “small rewards/punishment policy.” By that, Hoxby refers to a policy of addressing small infractions at the classroom level, rather than ignoring them. I’m guessing that’s sort of like the “broken windows” theory that has been credited with a crime reduction in the Big Apple.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.