The latest of a series of reports by a Stanford research center has found that Los Angeles charter schools are outperforming charters in California and also nationwide. The city’s charter school students are also making slightly more academic growth than their peers in local regular public schools.
The study, released early Saturday morning by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, examined 2nd through 11th grade reading and math assessment results from 2008 through 2012. [UPDATE (March 20): For the average student, charter school attendance was associated with an advantage equivalent to moving from the 50th to the 53rd percentile in reading and from the 50th to the 54th percentile in math.]
“It’s still small, but relative to what they found in other contexts, this is pretty impressive,” said Gary Miron, a professor of evaluation, measurement, and research at Western Michigan University, who both studies and critiques the charter school movement.
To put the Los Angeles results in perspective, a study released by the Center in 2013 found that California charter school students were outperforming their regular public school peers by a much smaller margin in reading. The Los Angeles charter students’ advantage was more than twice as big as the California charter school students’ advantage.
In math, California charter school students made slightly less growth than their peers in regular public schools. By contrast, the Los Angeles charter school students exceeded the growth of regular public school students by a significant amount.
Los Angeles charter school students also outperformed regular public school students by a bigger margin than their charter peers nationwide, according to that same 2013 Stanford study, which also contrasted charter and regular school performance in 26 states. That study found that, nationwide, unlike in Los Angeles, charter school students made less annual growth than regular public school students in math.
Nationwide, the 2013 study did find that charter school students demonstated more annual growth in reading than did regular public school students. But the Los Angeles charter schools’ annual advantage in reading was seven times more than the annual reading advantage of charter school students nationwide.
The Los Angeles results are also strong when compared to the findings of research syntheses that use quantitative methods to pool the results of multiple charter school studies.
For example, a 2012 meta-analysis of 90 different studies found no difference between the achievement of students in charters and regular public schools. The meta-analysis, which did find positive effects for private, religious schools, appeared in the peer-refereed Peabody Journal of Education and was conducted by William H. Jeynes, an education professor at California State University at Long Beach. (Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are freed from some of the regulations imposed on regular public schools and managed by a variety of different types of organizations, including for-profits, nonprofits, and public agencies, including school districts.)
University of California San Diego economists Julian Betts and Y. Emily Tang conducted a meta-analysis of 31 experimental and/or longitudinal studies that examined reading and 33 that examined math. These studies examined achievement in elementary schools, middle schools, or both. Although results varied by grade span, the authors found no overall differences between the reading achievement rates of charter schools and regular public schools. Charter schools had a slight advantage in math. Differences were not “statistically meaningful” for high school reading or math.
Betts and Tang also found that charter schools obtained better results in urban areas and with students of color. The enrollment of Los Angeles Unified is 75 percent Hispanic. Though under-represented, Hispanics still comprise the majority of students in charter schools (58 percent), according to the Stanford study. The study found especially strong results for low-income Hispanics, who made bigger gains in both reading and math than their low-income, Hispanic peers in regular public schools. These gains also outpaced those of the overall population of charter school students. When the results of lower and higher income Hispanics were combined, their growth rates were on par with those of the overall charter school population.
Betts and Tang, whose study was published in 2011 by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, found evidence not only of student-based differences but also of differences based upon the type of organization that managed the school. For instance, students in middle schools operated by one particular charter-management organization (the Knowledge is Power Program or KIPP) performed especially well.
The Stanford study did not break out results by particular educational management organizations. But, like the Betts and Tang study, it did find that, as a group, schools operated by charter-management organizations like KIPP made bigger reading and math gains than “mom and pop” or one-off charter schools. That said, when compared to regular public school students, students in charters operated by both types of organizations made more growth in reading and math.
Overall, the Stanford study found that 48 percent of Los Angeles charter schools outperformed regular public schools in reading and 44 percent outperformed regular public schools in math. By contrast, the 26-state Stanford study found that, nationwide, 25 percent of charters outperformed regular public schools in reading and 29 percent did better in math.
In a news release that accompanied the study, Center for Research on Education Outcomes Margaret Raymond credited “strong authorizing coupled with focused school operations” for the positive Los Angeles results.
California Charter Schools Association President and CEO Jed Wallace also applauded the Los Angeles charters.
“We are delighted that CREDO’s research confirms our own findings that Los Angeles charter schools are performing incredibly well, especially with historically underserved students, and are improving over time,” said Wallace, whose charter school membership organization maintains offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. “This explains a great deal about why parent demand for charter schools has led to enrollment tripling over the past six years.”
According to the National Alliance for Public Schools, a charter schools advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles charters enrolled 120,000 students in 2012-13, more than any other district in the nation. Between 2011 and 2012 alone, charter enrollment, which currently represents 18 percent of Los Angeles Unified Students, increased by 23 percent. Nationwide, only six other districts saw charter enrollment increase at a higher rate.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.