School & District Management

Researchers Say Pa. Charter Schools Raising Scores

By Robert C. Johnston — April 04, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Pennsylvania’s charter schools show signs of raising student test scores at faster rates than traditional public schools in their host districts, a recently released report concludes.

For More Information

Read results of the “Initial Study of Pennsylvania Charter Schools.”

The 17-month study conducted by Western Michigan University’s Evaluation Center also found that the Keystone State’s charter schools have become particularly popular among low-income and minority parents.

While the researchers cautioned against jumping to conclusions about Pennsylvania’s 4-year-old charter school effort, they added that the findings, overall, were more positive than the results they have come up with in studies of charter school programs in other states, including Michigan.

The findings “suggest that those charter schools that have had some time to work with their students can produce measurable gains in achievement,” said Christopher D. Nelson, a co- author of the report and a senior research associate at the center.

Most of the report’s analysis—which includes teacher and student surveys, spending patterns, and student performance—came from the 31 charter schools operating during the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 academic years.

Comparable, two-year trend data were available for just four schools. At those schools, however, students as a group posted gains of 105 points on state exams in mathematics, reading, and writing, outpacing their peers in the host districts on the tests by 86 points over the same period.

The information compiled for the study “provides the most positive picture of Pennsylvania charter schools,” the report says.

Less Flattering

Other results of the study paint a less flattering total picture of charter schools in the state. As a group, charter schools were outscored by schools statewide during the period studied.

Moreover, the charter schools scored about 50 points below their noncharter counterparts in the same district on a scale of 1,000 to 1,600. The researchers were quick to point out, however, that such gaps likely “measure the differences in the types of students who choose to attend charter schools more than any impact the charters have on their students.”

According to the report, 79.6 percent of the students in the charter schools studied were members of minority groups, compared with 57 percent of the enrollment in the host districts.

Surveys conducted as part of the research found that parents were most likely to choose charter schools for their children because they perceived that the quality of instruction would be better. They also cited safety, teacher quality, smaller classes, and dissatisfaction with their previous schools.

Charter school teachers were more likely to be younger—50 percent under age 30, compared with 11 percent in other schools—than their noncharter peers. They averaged an annual salary of $30,000, compared with an average of $48,000 statewide.

About 75 percent of charter school teachers said that they would return the following year, though most also reported that they had expected student achievement “would have improved more than it has.”

State education officials, who released the state-commissioned report late last month, highlighted the report’s positive findings.

Some 21,000 students attend the 65 publicly financed but largely independent charter schools currently operating in Pennsylvania. According to state estimates, another 1,100 students are on waiting lists for the schools. Another 15 charter schools are slated to open next fall.

“Charter schools give parents choice,” Eugene W. Hickok, Pennsylvania’s former secretary of education said in releasing the report shortly before leaving that post to become the undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education. “These numbers suggest to me that parents are taking advantage of the opportunity to select the schools where they think their children will learn the best.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the April 04, 2001 edition of Education Week as Researchers Say Pa. Charter Schools Raising Scores


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 3 Ways School Districts Can Ease the Pain of Supply Chain Chaos
Have a risk management plan, pay attention to what's happening up the supply chain, and be adaptable when necessary.
3 min read
Cargo Ship - Supply Chain with products such as classroom chairs, milk, paper products, and electronics
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Vulnerable Students, Districts at Greater Risk as Natural Disasters Grow More Frequent
New federal research indicates the harm from fires and storms to school facilities, learning, and mental health is disproportionate.
4 min read
Helina Thorp, right, 14, expresses frustration while unsuccessfully trying to log in to her school distance-learning classes in Placerville, Calif., after Pacific Gas & Electric intentionally shut off power to prevent wildfires amid high winds in September 2020.
Helina Thorp, right, 14, expresses frustration while unsuccessfully trying to log in to her school distance-learning classes in Placerville, Calif., after Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to prevent wildfires amid high winds in September 2020.
Daniel Kim/The Sacramento Bee via AP
School & District Management Opinion What It Takes for Universities to Conduct Useful Education Research
Many institutions lack the resources to make research-school partnerships successful, warns Thomas S. Dee.
Thomas S. Dee
3 min read
Illustration of coworkers collaborating.
School & District Management Opinion Trust Keeps Our School-Research Relationship Alive in the Pandemic
An educator and a researcher describe how their team was able to nudge forward a plan for equity even as COVID changed almost everything.
Katherine Mortimer & Scott Gray
3 min read
Illustration of coworkers analyzing data.