Charter Schools Produce Higher Test Scores, but Segregated Environment: Recent Studies Assess Race, Academic Achievement in the Nation's Charter Schools

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Charter school students perform slightly better on standardized tests than their public school counterparts, but go to schools that tend to be racially segregated, two recent studies have found.

A study by the New York-based think tank the Manhattan Institute found that although charter schools tend to serve poor students who are at risk of dropping out, their students score several points higher on standardized math and science tests than public school students with similar geographic and demographic backgrounds.

Measured in 11 states over a one-year period, the study found that charter schools outperformed nearby public schools on math tests by an average of 3 percentile points and on reading tests by 2 percentile points for a student starting at the 50th percentile.

The study's authors attributed the increase in test scores at charter schools to increased autonomy at those schools over decisions like curriculum, and the fact that parents choose to enroll their children in the schools, which suggest that they may be more involved in their children's education.

"Charter schools benefit from the freedom they enjoy from many state regulations," the study's authors wrote. "With less of a regulatory burden, charter schools may be able to focus more of their energy on assisting students and enjoy greater flexibility in meeting student needs."

Though test scores at charter schools are modestly higher than at regular public schools, the Manhattan Institute's authors are optimistic that the scores will increase even more as charter schools have more time to develop.

"Because these test results are statistically significant, we can be very confident that the charter schools in our study did have a positive effect on test scores. However, the small size of this effect should caution us against too much enthusiasm regarding the benefits of charter schools," the authors wrote. …


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