As we approach the 20th anniversary of the opening of the first charter school, we’re at a critical moment for reflection. Many are understandably asking: are charters performing any better than their traditional public school counterparts? There have been a number of conflicting studies on charter school performance, with some receiving a fair share of attention over the past several years. Making sense of the often wide variation in findings can become quite overwhelming, given the differences in samples and locations, years studied, and research design strategies.
But now there is some clarity in the muddy charter school research waters. Researchers from the University of California San Diego just released a meta-analysis of studies on charter school achievement, a must read for folks who want to keep up with the growing charter school performance research base. Meta-analysis, which is a study of studies strategy popularized by the medical research field, pulls together the results from a body of research and analyzes the overall effect of the program. Consequently, the findings from a meta-analysis—in this case, the overall impact of charter schools on student outcomes—are stronger than results from any individual study.
The UCSD meta-analysis shows that public charter schools outperform traditional public schools in the following break-outs (drumroll please…): elementary reading and math, middle school math, and urban high school reading. Given the large number of studies on KIPP charter schools, the authors were able to break out the findings and found large, positive results for KIPP middle schools in reading and math. In sum, charters serving elementary and middle school grades by and large outperform traditional public schools.
The positive results are testimony to the constant efforts by all the students, parents, educators, and others in the charter world whose daily work makes these results a reality.