Recent analysis has shown that public charter schools are out-performing their traditional public school counterparts on several key metrics, both nationally and in North Carolina.
The news drops as demand for public charters continues to increase across the state, with more than 77,000 students on waitlists for the schools.
First, a new report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that between 2015 and 2019, “the typical charter school student in our national sample had reading and math gains that outpaced their peers in the traditional public schools they otherwise would have attended.” Those gains amounted to an additional six days of learning in a year’s time in math and an additional 16 days of learning in reading.
Importantly, the gains were more significant for minority students, students in poverty, and students learning English as a second language.
“Compared to their [traditional public school] peers, Black students attending charter schools had 35 days more growth in a school year in reading and 29 days in math. This would be as if the students had attended an additional 1.5 months of schooling each year,” the study concluded.
Broadening the time range to between 2009 and 2023, the study found similar outperformance for charters: “Against a backdrop of flat performance for the nation as a whole, the trend of learning gains for students enrolled in charter schools is both large and positive.”
“This study is certainly good news,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “It confirms what many of us have thought for a long time: charter schools can offer many students a great academic experience. That’s especially true for minority students and students in poverty. These facts have helped to fuel the recent growth in charters, a development all should welcome.”
The report’s results were not exclusively positive for charters. For example, researchers found that virtual charters had “damaging consequences for students and exerts an outsized drag on overall national results,” with student progress of 58 fewer days of learning in reading and 124 fewer days in math.
The Stanford study is important because it covered 81% of tested public school students across the U.S., making it one of the largest reviews of its kind to date.
Meanwhile, an updated report from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction shows there are more top-performing charters than traditional public schools across the state. Twenty-seven percent of charters earned a grade of A or B last year, compared to 23% of traditional public schools. Relatedly, 39% of charters received a D or F compared to 42% of traditional public schools.
This session, N.C. lawmakers are moving several bills designed to expand or strengthen charter schools. House Bill 618 would create a new Charter School Review Board responsible for evaluating and approving new charters, while House Bill 149 would authorize charters to offer virtual instruction.