Panel Paper: A Real Choice? Examining the Effectiveness of Charter School Alternatives to Traditional Public Schools Among Economically Disadvantaged Elementary Students in Ohio

Saturday, April 8, 2017 : 3:10 PM
Founders Hall Room 470 (George Mason University Schar School of Policy)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Katharine S. Parham, Georgetown University
Since the creation of charter schools in the early 1990s, charter school attendance in the United States has been on the rise. Previous research examining charter school effectiveness using higher-quality quantitative methods shows that among the majority of studies, charter school attendance is positively associated with academic achievement. The present study uses school-level data from the state of Ohio to analyze the effectiveness of charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools for economically disadvantaged third grade students.

Charter growth in Ohio, since its inception in 1997, has followed an unorthodox path, particularly as a result of the state’s liberal charter authorization laws. A total of 69 different entities in Ohio are allowed to open and oversee operations of new or existing schools. Findings from previous research raise the question of whether the high number of authorizing bodies in Ohio has led to an environment in which the state’s charter schools are less effective than charter schools in other states. This study controls for the broad range of accountability policies among the state’s for-profit and non-profit authorizers. 

Data from the Ohio Department of Education was collected from the 2015-2016 school year, and focuses on academic outcomes for third grade, which constitutes a critical inflection point in many students’ academic trajectories. This recent data snapshot allows for the assessment of current charter performance in Ohio, providing an important framework for discussions of the necessary direction of future charter school policy statewide. Few analyses of charter schools have been conducted at the school level, despite the fact that this is the level at which decisions and policies are often made. This study provides a timely new data point to inform the debate over the effectiveness of the state’s charter schools and the environment in which they are created.

Preliminary descriptives show that, among economically disadvantaged students, proficiency rates are higher on average for students in traditional public schools than among students in charter schools. However, charter school populations are also significantly more likely to be disadvantaged according to a number of different metrics.