Charter schools have “advantaged” students?

“Charter schools actually bring in a more advantaged set of students than other schools,” said researcher Ed Fuller, an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University. “It explains why some of them do have higher levels of achievement, because their clientele is different.”

“Study says higher-performing kids enroll in charter schools”, Lindsay Kastner, San Antonio Express-News, August 22, 2012. See also “Middle School Charters in Texas: An Examination of Student Characteristics and Achievement Levels of Entrants and Leavers”, Ed Fuller, A “Fuller” Look at Education Issues blog, August 23, 2012; “New Study Suggests Highly Regarded Charter Schools Have An Unspoken Advantage: Selecting Their Students”, Texas AFT Legislative Hotline blog, August 23, 2012.

Critics of charter schools often argue that good results at charter schools are caused by student selection rather than more effective instruction. Open enrollment charter schools choose students by lottery, so it’s not possible for “skimming” or “creaming” of the best students to occur. However, it makes sense that the students and families who seek out charter schools are a self-selected group that are more involved in education.

The way to factor out the self-selection of charter school families is to compare the students who won a place at a charter school with the students applied but did not win. An earlier post talks about several studies that used randomized controlled trials and found higher achievement among the lottery winners.

A new study found lower truancy rates among students who knew they had won a place at a charter school next year, even before they enrolled at the charter school. Those students went on to have higher test scores. “Another School Choice Random Assignment Study”, Jay P. Greene’s blog, August 23, 2012.

According to Mark Larson, CEO of KIPP: San Antonio, the new students enrolling at KIPP do not seem “advantaged”:

“Our average student is reading at a late second-grade level and doing math at a late-second-grade level coming in to fifth grade,” Larson said. “Some of them are still at a first-grade level when they walk into our fifth grade.”

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