Increases in Charter School Enrollment Share Lead to Student Achievement

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Black students in classroom with computers

Earlier this year, Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a new study “Still Rising: Charter School Enrollment and Student Achievement at the Metropolitan Level,” examining the relationship between charter school enrollment share and the average math and reading achievement of all public school students in metro areas.

This new study combines charter school and district school enrollment data with student reading and math achievement at the metropolitan level. This unique approach sheds light on charter school performance at the metropolitan level by looking at 400 metropolitan statistical areas and 534 micropolitan statistical areas (both referred to as “metro areas”).

The analysis had three major findings:

  1. In larger metro areas, an increase in total charter school enrollment share is associated with a significant increase in the average math achievement of Black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students.
  2. Increases in Black and Hispanic charter school enrollment share are associated with notable increases in the average math achievement of these student groups.
  3. An increase in total charter school enrollment share is associated with a statistically significant narrowing of a metro area's racial and socioeconomic math achievement gaps.

Charter schools historically serve proportionally more students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. In 2019-20 school year, students of color made up 70% of national charter school enrollment versus 53% of national district school enrollment. In other words, roughly 1 in 8 Black and 1 in 11 Hispanic public-school students enrolled in a charter school.

The author’s results support the idea that charter schools have a positive influence on economically disadvantaged, Black, and Hispanic students’ academic outcomes, especially in math. Furthermore, the report demonstrates that Hispanic students, especially those who reside in larger metropolitan areas, would benefit from enrolling in charter schools. This finding is consistent with the 2015 CREDO urban charter study in which Hispanic charter students in urban areas had the equivalent of 22 days of additional learning in math and 6 days of additional learning in reading compared to students enrolled in district schools.

In a time when racial and socioeconomic equity in education is at the forefront, this study shows what charter schools can contribute to increasing public education quality and equitable outcomes. And, with 58% of charter schools and campuses located in urban areas, more studies on all public schools in the metro areas will benefit policymakers, school leaders, parents, and other stakeholders as they seek to expand their knowledge on charter schools' contributions in their communities. 


Yueting (Cynthia) Xu is the coordinator of data and research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.