Earlier this year, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University released the third iteration of their national charter school study, “As a Matter of Fact: The National Charter School Study III 2023”. This comprehensive study consists of two reports: “Charter School Performance in 31 States”, which analyzes the national and state-to-state performance of charter school students, and “Charter Management Organization 2023”, which examines the difference in academic growth between students attending CMO-affiliated charter schools and those in stand-alone charter schools.
In this blog, the first in a three-part series, we will dive deeper into seven key highlights of the results from the first part of the national study, “Charter School Performance in 31 States.” This portion of CREDO’s study examines student reading and math performance data from 31 states and regions (including 29 states, along with DC and New York City) from the 2014-15 school year to the 2018-19 school year.
1. Charter schools deliver extra days of instruction on average compared to district schools.
The report found that, on average, charter school students gained an average of 16 additional days of learning in reading and 6 extra days of learning in math. CREDO measures students’ knowledge gain using “days of learning,” with the benchmark set at “180 days of learning in 180 days of schooling” for an average student attending district public schools (described as traditional public schools or TPS in the report). Individual students’ academic progress is compared to this benchmark, with extra days awarded for exceeding it and days deducted for falling behind.
2. Black and Hispanic students attending charter schools exhibited significantly stronger learning growth compared to their peers at district schools.
Black students in charter schools gained an additional 35 days of learning in reading and 29 days of learning in math, while Hispanic students attending charter schools saw an additional 30 days of growth in reading and 19 more days in math.
3. Charter schools also produced stronger learning gains for students from low-income backgrounds and English Language Learner (ELL) students compared to their peers attending district schools.
Specifically, students from low-income backgrounds (described as “students in poverty” in the report) attending charter schools showed 23 additional days of learning in reading and 17 additional days of learning in math compared to students from low-income backgrounds in district schools. Similarly, ELL students in charter schools demonstrated 6 more days of learning in reading and 8 more days of learning in math than ELL students in district schools. Additionally, Black students from low-income backgrounds enrolled in charter schools experienced 37 days of stronger growth in reading and 36 days in math when compared to their district school peers. In charter schools, Hispanic students from low-income backgrounds gained 36 more days of learning in reading and 30 more days in math compared to their district school peers. Hispanic ELL students gained an additional 11 days in reading and 8 extra days of learning in math by attending charter schools instead of their local district school option.
4. More than 1,000 charter schools are dramatically busting the achievement gap.
These “gap-busting” schools not only surpass the state average performance but also succeed in closing the achievement gap for historically disadvantaged students, who showed greater learning gains compared to their non-disadvantaged peers. The “gap-busters” demonstrated that “high-quality, high-equality education is possible anywhere.”
5. Charter school students see a bigger learning benefit, the longer they attend a charter school.
As students spend more years in a charter school, their learning gains increase over time. By the fourth year in their charter school, students showed 45 days of stronger growth in reading and 39 additional days of learning per year in math compared to their district school peers.
6.Though there is state to state variation in performance, nearly every state’s charter school sector is as good, and in many cases better, than district schools.
When examining results at the state level, out of the 31 states and regions included in the study, charter school students in 30 states produced stronger or similar learning gains compared to their district school peers in reading and math, respectively (18 states posted stronger learning gains for charter school students in reading, and 12 states saw significantly stronger growth in math). Rhode Island (90 days of additional learning in reading, 88 additional days of learning in math), New York State (75 extra days of learning in reading, 73 extra days of learning in math), and New York City (42 additional days of learning in reading, 80 additional days of learning in math) stood out as the locations where charter school students had the most significant learning growth compared to their district school peers. To explore more state-level results, you can visit CREDO’s interactive state results website here.
7. The charter school sector is demonstrating improvement over time.
From 2009 to 2023, charter school students consistently demonstrated substantial positive learning gains. In the 2009 CREDO study, charter school students showed less growth in reading (6 days less) math (17 days less) compared to their district school peers. In the 2013 study, charter school students had stronger learning growth in reading (6 more days) and similar learning growth in math compared to their peers in district school. In 2023, charter school students gained an average of 16 additional days of learning in reading and 6 extra days of learning in math.
In conclusion, this latest report from CREDO is one of the strongest pieces of evidence of charter school success in recent history. Between the 2009 and 2023 studies, amidst stagnant overall performance across the nation, the trend of learning gains for students enrolled in charter schools is both significant and positive. These results show that “the framework of charter schools helps current students and strengthens public education overall.”
Yueting (Cynthia) Xu is the senior manager of data and research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.