School Choice & Charters

Students in For-Profit Charter Schools Said to Make Gains

By Olivia Doherty — October 29, 2003 3 min read
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Charter schools managed by for-profit companies are raising student achievement faster than other charter schools, a report released last week concludes.

While test scores from privately managed charter schools have remained below the averages of regular public schools, the report says, they show significantly greater gains than their nonprofit counterparts.

The findings are detailed in an annual “report card” on American education by the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy.

Read the report, “How Well Are American Students Learning?, from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Subtitled “How Well Are American Students Learning?,” it looks at national student-achievement trends, the state of rural schools, misperceptions about homework, and charter schools.

“Last year, we found charter schools were performing below average,” said Tom Loveless, the author of the report and the director of the Brown Center. “This year, we found a significant gain.”

Mr. Loveless used state test data from 2000 to 2002 for 90 charter schools operated by for- profit companies to come up with a composite score for each school from 10 states with significant numbers of charter schools. The scores were then compared with state averages for test scores from other charter schools and regular public schools.

An analysis showed that charter schools operated by education management organizations, also known as EMOs, registered gains of 0.41 standard deviation points over the course of the three years, compared with a 0.18 gain by other charter schools.

“These data are an eye-opener,” Mr. Loveless said. In the report, he explains that the data show EMO-operated charters are “significantly out-gaining non-EMO charter schools with similar demographic profiles.”

‘Important Model’

Mr. Loveless noted that results of the study could potentially have been skewed because 62 of the 90 privately managed schools in the analysis are located in Michigan. But a separate examination of such schools in other states still produced similar findings.

Sizing Up Schools

This chart provides a snapshot of characteristics of charter schools run by education management organizations, or EMOs, nonprofit charter schools, and traditional public schools.

EMO
(N=90)
Non-EMO
(N=479)
Regular Public
School
(N=25,614)
Enrollment Median

498

248

546

Poverty 53% 47% 42%

White

43% 51% 57%
Black 41% 25%

12%

Hispanic

14% 19% 25%
Asian 1% 3% 5%

Urban

45%

52% 30%
Suburban 41% 33% 40%

Rural

15% 15% 29%
NOTE: Mean enrollments are: EMO=507, Non-EMO=369, Regular Public School=664
SOURCE: “The Brown Center Report on American Education,” The Brookings Institution

The positive review of for-profit charter schools suggests that management expertise might make a difference and deserves more study as an option for struggling schools, Mr. Loveless said.

For the state of Michigan, the report brings particularly good news, since for-profit management companies are involved in about 70 percent of the state’s 200 charter schools, said Dan Quisenberry, the president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.

“One of the more remarkable things here is the fact that this is pointing toward a pretty important model to take a look at, helping us address urban education problems,” Mr. Quisenberry said. “You can have small schools with operational efficiency.”

Joan Devlin, the associate director of the American Federation of Teachers’ educational issues department, agreed that the gains registered by EMO-run schools showed great improvement, but she pointed out that scores were still low.

“The problem is, they’re still not raising student achievement above that of other public schools,” she said.

The study also examined test data from 66 “conversion” charter schools in California. Those schools are public schools that became charters. After the researchers adjusted the scores for poverty and racial makeup, the conversion charters showed significantly higher test scores than other charters and regular public schools.

“They serve a demographic profile more likely to produce lower test scores,” Mr. Loveless said, noting that conversion charters typically have more African-American students and more students in poverty than other schools.

The report also shows, however, that a somewhat bigger proportion of charters are on state lists of low- performing schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Out of the 569 charter schools studied, 24.6 percent were listed as failing, compared with 21.3 percent of all public schools.

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