School & District Management

Texas Charter School Performance Is on the Rise, CREDO Study Finds

By Arianna Prothero — August 07, 2017 3 min read
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A few years after lawmakers created stricter rules for charter schools in Texas, student academic performance there is climbing. That’s the big takeaway from a new report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO.

Researchers found that, on average, Texas charter school students gained the equivalent of an extra 17 days in reading over the course of one school year compared to their peers in traditional district schools.

Student gains in math were about the same for both sectors.

By themselves, those gains may seem like nothing to write home about, but they are a far cry from CREDO’s findings in its first study of Texas’ charter sector, released in 2013. At that time, Texas charter school students were losing 17 days in reading and 23 days in math a year when compared to their counterparts in district schools. This is the third study CREDO has done on Texas charters.

Most of the growth in reading comes from charter schools serving the elementary grades.

Hispanic students in the state’s urban charter schools performed particularly well in reading and math when compared to their peers in traditional public schools.

Nearly 60 percent of Texas charter school students are Hispanic, while about 20 percent are black.

Performance among black students was roughly the same in both sectors, which marks an improvement from CREDO’s last analysis when researchers found black students in charters were not keeping pace with their district school counterparts.

While charter school students showed stronger growth over time, they get off to a slow start. The study found that charter school students lag significantly behind their district school counterparts the first year they are enrolled in a charter. But their academic performance ticks up considerably in their second and third years.

Texas Charter School Reforms

Although charter schools have been allowed in Texas since 1995, the state legislature sought to rein in the sector—which some observers have felt was under-regulated and underperforming—in 2014. Among the new rules it enacted: The state department of education is required to yank the charter of any school that fails to meet academic or financial accountability standards for three years in a row.

The number of schools that closed in the 2014-15 school year was nearly triple that of earlier years, according to the CREDO report. Fewer new schools are opening as well.

Charter supporters welcomed the results of this latest Texas study.

Although CREDO has its detractors, its research is widely considered some of the most rigorous on charter school performance. Taken together, CREDO’s studies have shown charter school performance to be a mixed bag, and as a result, are regularly cited by both charter supporters and opponents, depending upon the outcome of a particular study.

CREDO’s findings may add more fodder to the debate over whether government should play a bigger role in regulating and shuttering charter schools. It’s a debate which has gained more attention since President Trump appointed Betsy DeVos, who supports a lighter regulatory touch, to be U.S. secretary of education.

Finally, although CREDO’s findings were positive, it remains unclear whether academic advancements at the early-grades level translate into greater success later in life. A working paper published by two economists about this time last year found that attending a charter school in Texas had a negative effect on students’ future earnings. Even among Texas charter schools that posted the highest test scores, the future earnings of their alumni remained in line with those who graduated from district schools.

For more on CREDO’s findings—including a separate analysis based on grade level and management structure—read the full report here.

Related stories:

Graph from CREDO’s ‘Charter School Performance in Texas.’

A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.