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Can attending a charter high school help you go to college and earn more money?

A new working paper released by Mathematica Policy Research and sponsored by the Joyce Foundation finds that public charter schools in Florida and Chicago are helping more students get into college and earn higher incomes once they graduate. Compared to their traditional school peers, the study found:
  • Enrolling in a charter high school increases a student’s probability of graduating from high school and entering college by 11 percentage points in Florida and by seven in Chicago.
  • Enrollment in a Florida charter high school leads to a 10 percentage point increase in the probability of attending college.
  • Chicago charter schools boost their students’ chances of attending college by 11 percentage points.
  • Florida charter high school graduates have a 13 percentage point advantage for completing at least two consecutive years of college.
  • Florida charter high schools may raise their students’ earnings in their mid-20s by as much as 12.7 percent. 

College Attendance Graph

Source: Kevin Booker, Brian Gill, Tim Sass, and Ron Zimmre,Charter High Schools’ Effects on Educational Attainment and Earnings, Mathematica Policy Research, January 2014. This report is particularly compelling when you consider the methodology. Most charter school studies use a lottery admission strategy, one that compares students who enrolled in an oversubscribed charter school lottery and either won admission to the charter or enrolled in a traditional public school. This Mathematica study, however, looks at students who were enrolled in charter schools in 8th grade, and either enrolled in a charter or switched to a traditional public school for high school. Therefore all the students had previously shown the disposition to enroll in a charter school. The study further controlled for student characteristics such as test scores, race/ethnicity, poverty, mobility, and special education status. While this report’s methodology is rigorous, it still doesn’t answer the “secret sauce” question of what these public charter schools are doing to achieve these great results for their students’ long-term outcomes and acknowledged the need for further research. But regardless of further research, it’s clear that public charter school students in Chicago and Florida are seeing significant academic results that are helping them well beyond their K-12 years.   Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.