Charter Schools Show Increased Rates of High School Graduation and College Enrollment, According to New Study
Hoover Institution/Education Next News Release
STANFORD–In the first-ever analysis of the impacts of charter school attendance on educational attainment, educational researchers Kevin Booker and Brian Gill of Mathematica Policy Research, Tim R. Sass of Florida State University, and Ron Zimmer of Michigan State University find that attending charter high schools is associated with higher graduation rates and college attendance. The findings, which will be published in the spring issue of Education Next and are now online at www.EducationNext.org, show that students attending charter high schools in Florida and Chicago have an increased likelihood of successful high-school completion and college enrollment when compared with their traditional public high school counterparts.
In Chicago, students who attended a charter high school were 7 percentage points more likely to earn a regular high school diploma than their counterparts with similar characteristics who attended a traditional public high school. The graduation differential for Florida charter schools was even larger, at 15 percentage points.
The findings for college attendance are remarkably similar in Florida and Chicago. Among the study population of charter 8th graders, students who attended a charter high school in 9th grade are 8 to 10 percentage points more likely to attend college than similar students who attended a traditional public high school.
The results, point out the researchers, are comparable to those of some studies which find that attending a Catholic high school boosts the likelihood of high school graduation and college attendance by 10 to 18 percentage points.
In exploring the various factors that might play a role in the charter schools’ positive effect on educational attainment, the research team focused in on the fact that grade configurations in charter schools often differ from those of traditional public schools. In the traditional public school sector in both Florida and Chicago, high schools are almost always separate from middle schools, which is not the case for charter schools. In 2001-02, about 30 percent of Florida charter 8th-grade students attended schools that also offered at least some high-school grades. In Chicago, nearly half of the 8th-grade charter students could attend at least some high-school grades without changing schools. The researchers point out that this raises the possibility that the positive effects of attending a charter high school on educational attainment could simply reflect advantages of grouping middle and high school grades together, thereby creating greater continuity for students and eliminating the disruption often associated with changing schools.
The state of Florida and the city of Chicago were selected for study because both locations have the necessary data and data systems in place to support the research. The Florida data, which cover four cohorts of 8th grade students for the study from the school years 1997-98 to 2000-01, came primarily from the Florida Department of Education’s K-20 Education Data Warehouse (K-20 EDW), an integrated longitudinal database covering all public school students in the state of Florida. The K-20 EDW includes detailed enrollment, demographic, and program participation information for each student, as well as reading and math achievement test scores. The Chicago data, which cover five cohorts of students who were in 8th grade during the school years 1997-98 to 2001-02, were obtained from the Chicago Public Schools. The data include 8th-grade math and reading test scores and information on student gender, race/ethnicity, bilingual status, free or reduced price lunch status, and special education status.
To address the issue of student self-selection into charter schools, the researchers compared high school and postsecondary outcomes for 8th-grade charter students who entered charter high schools with outcomes for 8th-grade charter students who entered conventional public high schools, ensuring that both the comparison group and the treatment group of students were once charter choosers.
- Watch the Education Next Video: Brian Gill talks with Education Next about the impact of charter schools on high school graduation and college attendance rates.
Kevin Booker is researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Tim R. Sass is professor of economics at Florida State University. Brian Gill is senior social scientist at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Ron Zimmer is associate professor at Michigan State University.
Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to looking at hard facts about school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
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