Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: National Variation in Urban Charter Schools

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 11:15 AM
Japengo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Edward Cremata, University of Southern California and James Woodworth, Stanford University
Charter schools are a prominent and growing component of the public school system in the United States, with roughly 6,400 charters across the country enrolling over 2.5 million students (NAPCS, 2014). The charter sector is regularly treated as a monolithic set of schools, but recent research has made clear that across the U.S. there are in fact distinct charter markets with dramatically different student profiles, governance and oversight structures, and levels of academic quality (CREDO, 2013). Previous CREDO state level studies, in addition to other recent analyses of charter school performance, have identified individual charter markets substantially outperforming their traditional public school (TPS) peers, particularly those serving students in urban areas. CREDO decided to investigate whether urban charter schools do in fact have differential performance than that found in our 2013 National Charter School Study for the charter sector as a whole and, if so, what the drivers of these differences in quality might be.

In this paper, CREDO used its unprecedented data holdings to investigate the student profiles and academic performance of a large portion of the major urban regions in the U.S. CREDO included in this analysis forty-one major urban regions across twenty-two states for which we have student level administrative and school level data. In this analysis, we address the following questions:

1. Across the major urban school systems in the U.S., what is the range of academic performance of charters and traditional public schools (TPS)?

2. Do urban charter schools tend to cause higher or lower growth with different student subgroups, and how do these results vary by region?

3. Are there trends with respect to the quality of urban charter and TPS?

4. Which students are being served by charters and TPS in urban school systems across the U.S., both with respect to their demographics and the initial (pre-enrollment) performance of their students?

Our findings show urban charter schools in the aggregate provide higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading compared to their TPS peers, although there is substantial variation in charter quality within most urban regions and across the country. Additional analyses contrast the magnitude of each charter sector’s impact on growth to the size of the existing achievement deficit of students in their urban region relative to the rest of their state. Finally, the presence of cream skimming as a potential confounding factor is investigated in depth and urban charter sectors are found, on average, to not engage in cream skimming relative to their local TPS counterparts.