Local Evaluations of Charter Schools

Several local evaluations have found urban charter schools to significantly outperform their school district peers.

A study in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) District compared Boston’s charter schools to their district school peers as well as Boston’s pilot schools, which are public schools that have been granted the flexibility to determine their own budgets, staffing, curricula, and scheduling but remain part of the local school district and subject to collectively bargained pay scales and seniority protections. The report performed analyses using both statistical controls and using pilot and charter applicant lotteries.

The results using statistical controls to control for demographic and baseline state test scores found a positive effect among charter schools similar to a year spent in one of Boston’s selective exam schools, with math scores, for instance, showing positive effects of 0.18 and 0.22 standard deviations for charter middle and high schools respectively compared to an effect of 0.20 and 0.16 standard deviations for exam schools. For pilot schools, the report found that in the middle school grades pilot school students modestly underperform relatives to similar students attending traditional BPS schools (-0.05 standard deviations in ELA and -0.07 in math) while showing slightly positive results in the high school grades for pilot schools (0.15 standard deviations for writing and 0.06 for math).

The results using a sub-sample of schools with random lottery results found very large positive effects in both math and ELA scores for charter schools, including 0.16 and 0.19 standard deviations in middle and high school ELA scores respectively and 0.36 and 0.17 standard deviations in middle and high school math scores respectively. Boston’s pilot schools, however, showed a concerning negative effect in middle school math and ELA and a slightly positive effect in high school.

New Orleans
A recent case study by the Harvard Business School examined the charter school reform efforts in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans in 2005, the state of Louisiana took over 102 of the 118 public schools and shifted management to a system of schools. The district is now composed of 70 Recovery Schools District (RSD) schools managed by the state (including 37 RSD charter schools) and 16 schools managed by the local Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) (including 12 OPSB charter schools). Charter schools now account for more than 60% of the public schools in New Orleans.

When evaluating New Orleans’ schools against the 200 point index called the State Performance Index (SPI), 19 of the 20 highest performing non-selective schools were charter schools. Charter schools affiliated with charter management organizations such as KIPP tended to perform better than stand-alone schools. The overall percentage of schools performing below the failing mark of 60 fell from 64% in 2005 to 36% in 2009.