Thursday, February 10, 2011

Resources: Charter schools, Vouchers, School Choice (UPDATED)

A key national and state issue concerns charter schools. On balance, the patterns of the body of research show that few differences exist in the outcomes from charter schools when compared to public schools (and such is the case when comparing public and private as well). But charter schools do have some troubling trends related to isolating student populations by race and income, under-serving special needs students, under-serving ELL students, and promoting "no excuses" ideologies that are perpetuating classist/racist dynamics.

There is widespread concern that administration consumes too much of the educational dollar in traditional public schools, diverting needed resources from classroom instruction and hampering efforts to improve student outcomes. By contrast, charter schools are predicted to have leaner administration and allocate resources more intensively to instruction. This study analyzes resource allocation in charter and district schools in Michigan, where charter and tradition public schools receive approximately the same operational funding. Holding constant other determinants of school resource allocation, we find that compared to traditional public schools, charter schools on average spend nearly $800 more per pupil per year on administration and $1100 less on instruction.
Click here to view publication as a PDF
Jack Hassard: Charter School Data Fuels Controversy in Georgia (EdWeek, Living in Dialogue)

Charter Schools Not the Answer, Especially if We Fail to Identify the Question



By Sean Cavanagh on January 12, 2012 5:19 PM

December 2011

Recent Reports:

195. What Makes KIPP Work? A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance. 2011.

The abstract will be available shortly. We apologize for the delay.


Ballou, D., Teasley, B., & Zeidner, T. (2006, August). Comparison of charter schools and traditional public schools in Idaho. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Bell, C. A. (2005, October). All choices created equal?: How good parents select “failing” schools. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Bifulco, R., Ladd, H. F., & Ross, S. (2008, September). Public school choice and integration: Evidence from Durham, North Carolina. Working Paper No. 109. Syracuse, NY: Center for Policy Research. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Borsuk, A. J. (2007, October 24). Choice may not improve schools, study says: Report on MPS comes from longtime supporter of plan. Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 11 November 2009 from the JSOnline Web site,
Brooks, D, (2009, May 7). The Harlem miracle. The New York Times, A31.
Buddin, R., & Zimmer, R. (2005, September). Is charter school competition in California improving the performance of traditional public schools? Working paper prepared for the Smith Richardson Foundation. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. Retrieved 5 October 2008 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site: cat=139  
Carr, M., & Ritter, G. (2007). Measuring the competitive effect of charter schools on student achievement in Ohio’s traditional public schools. Retrieved 5 October 2008 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Chemsak, S. (2008, May). A comprehensive, non-partisan analysis of Arizona’s charter school plan. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
d'Entremont, C., & Gulosino, C. (2008). Circles of influence: How neighborhood demographics and charter school locations influence student enrollments. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Dobbie, W., & Fryer, R. G., Jr. (2009), Are high-quality schools enough to close the achievement gap? Evidence from a bold social experiment in Harlem. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Retrieved June 5, 2009, from
Dodenhoff, D. (2007, October). Fixing the Milwaukee public schools: The limits of parent-driven reform. Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Report, 20(8). Thiensville, WI: Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Inc. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Website:
Dolle, J. R., & Newman, A. (2008, June). Luck of the draw: On the fairness of charter school admission policies. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Esposito, C. L., & Cobb, C. D. (2008). Estimating the school level effects of choice on academic achievement in Connecticut’s magnet, technical and charter schools. Retrieved 28 December 2008 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Fact vs. fiction: Analysis of Dr. Hoxby’s misrepresentation of CREDO’s research. (2009, October 7). Stanford, CA: Center for Research on Education Outcomes. Retrieved 2 November 2009 from
Failed promises: Assessing charter schools in Twin Cities. (2008, November). Minneapolis, MN: Institute on Race and Poverty. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from:
Gibbons, S., Machin, S., & Silva, O. (2006, July). Choice, competition, and pupil achievement. Retrieved 28 December 2008 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Hill, C. D., & Welsch, D. M. (2007, October). Is there a difference between for-profit versus not-for-profit charter schools? Retrieved 5 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Hoxby, C. M. (2009, August). A statistical mistake in the CREDO study of charter schools. The New York City Charter Schools Evaluation Project. Retrieved 2 November 2009 from
Hoxby, C. M., Murarka, S., & Kang, J. (2009, September). How New York City's charter schools affect achievement, August 2009 report. Second report in series. Cambridge, MA: New York City Charter Schools Evaluation Project. Retrieved 2 November 2009 from
Imberman, S. A. (2007, November 20). The effect of charter schools on non-charter students: An instrumental variables approach. Retrieved 5 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Ladd, H. F., Fiske, E. B., & Ruijs, N. (2009, September). Parental choice in the Netherlands: Growing concerns about segregation. Retrieved 21 November 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Lai, F. (2007, April). The effect of winning a first-choice school entry lottery on student performance: Evidence from a natural experiment. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Lightbourn, G. (n.d.). The truth about choice in the public schools. Thiensville, WI: Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Inc. Retrieved 7 September 2009 from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Website,
Lubienski, C., & Lubienski, S. T. (2006). Charter, private, public schools and academic achievement: New evidence from the NAEP mathematics data. Retrieved 28 December 2008 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site: 
Multiple choice: Charter school performance in 16 states. (2009, June). Stanford, CA: Center for Research on Education Outcomes. Retrieved 2 November 2009 from
Ni, Y. (2007, September). The impact of charter schools on the efficiency of traditional public schools: Evidence from Michigan. Retrieved 28 December 2008 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Pallas, A. (2009). Just how gullible is David Brooks? New York: Gotham Schools. Retrieved May 8, 2009, from
Ravitch, D. (2009, May 12). What the “Harlem Miracle” really teaches. Bridging Differences blog. Education Week. Retrieved 27 December 2009 from
Reardon, S. F. (2009) Review of “How New York City’s Charter Schools Affect Achievement.” Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved 13 November 2009 from
Rose, M. (2009, October 21). Blinded by reform. truthdig. Retrieved 22 October 2009 from
Smith, J., & Wohlstetter, P. (2009, October 26). Parent involvement in urban charter schools: A new paradigm or the status quo? Paper presented at the second annual conference of The National Center on School Choice, Nashville, TN. Retrieved 9 November 2009 from
Stuit, D. A., & Smith, T. M. (2009). Teacher turnover in charter schools. Retrieved 18 December 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Thomas, P. L. (2010, October 23). The (shifting) truth about charter schools.
-----. (2010, September 28). The great charter compromise: Masking corporate commitments in educational reform.
-----. (2010, August 17). Reconsidering education "miracles."
-----. (2010). Parental choice?: A critical reconsideration of choice and the debate about choice. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.
Viadero, D. (2009, November 13). Charter school research: The beat(ing) goes on. Education Week blogs. Retrieved 16 November 2009 from
Watson, L., & Ryan, C. (2009, June). Choice, vouchers and the consequences for public high schools: Lessons from Australia. Retrieved 6 November 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Witte, J. F., Carlson, D. E., & Lavery, L. (2008, July). Moving on: Why students move between districts under open enrollment. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Wylie, C. (2006). What is the reality of school competition? Retrieved 5 October 2008 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:
Zimmer, R., & Buddin, R. (2005, July). Charter school performance in urban districts: Are they closing the achievement gap? Working paper prepared for the Smith Richardson Foundation. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. Retrieved 5 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:

National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education
Teachers College, Columbia University

97. An Analysis of Parental Preferences and Search Behavior. 2005.
Author: Gregory Elacqua

This study by Gregory Elacqua examines the actual behavior of parents when selecting schools in the Metropolitan Region of Santiago, Chile.  Chile has sponsored a national voucher program since 1980 where all students can choose to enroll in public, private non-profit or for-profit schools, both secular and religious.  First, Elacqua conducts a survey of parents.  He agrees with past studies and reports that parents list academics to be important when selecting a school.  Next, Elacqua conducts a multivariate analysis of parental behavior to ascertain what criteria parents actually used in making their decisions.  He found that parents’ decisions were more heavily influenced by school demographics than academic performance.  Based on this evidence, he argues that unfettered choice may further stratify student populations, thereby reducing competition and incentives for schools to improve.  Associate Director of the NCSPE, Dr. Clive Belfield remarks that “market-based reforms are intended to give parents choices about schools.  But they simply assume that parents can make informed choices.  This paper examines directly the information sets that parents use to make these choices.”

102. Re-Examining a Primary Premise of Market Theory: An Analysis of NAEP Data on Achievement in Public and Private Schools. 2005.
Author: Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski

This study examines the mathematics performance of students in public, Catholic, and other private schools. In view of widespread interest in private models for education organization, it is important to understand the impact of different school models on students’ academic achievement. Drawing on a representative sample of 23,000 4 th- and 8 th -grade students in 1,340 public and private schools, this analysis confirms that private school students, on average, scored substantially higher than their public school counterparts. However, contrary to previous studies, this HLM analysis found that the performance of students in Catholic and other private schools actually falls significantly below that of public school students when accounting for SES, race, and disability status differences in the populations of these schools. At this time when market-style reforms are changing the public school landscape, this study offers fresh evidence that challenges common assumptions about the general superiority of private schools.

106. All Choices Created Equal? How Good Parents Select “Failing” Schools. 2005.
Author: Courtney Bell

Recent reports suggest that the vast majority (up to 97%) of parents with children in “failing” schools choose to leave their children in those schools, even when it is their legal right to do otherwise. These reports -- and the puzzling behavior they describe -- draw attention to researchers’ limited ability to explain parents’ actions. This study addresses this limitation by investigating the “black box” of choice -- the processes parents use to choose. Based on interviews with 48 urban parents during the eight months preceding the selection of a middle or high school, the study finds that differences in the choice process did not explain why parents chose failing schools. Instead, differences in choice sets explain, in part, why parents choose the schools they do.  Using social networks, customary attendance patterns, and their understanding of their child’s academic achievement, parents constructed choice sets that varied systematically by social-class background. The differences between parents’ choice sets were statistically significant and provide insight into why it makes sense that well-intentioned parents choose failing schools. The study’s findings elaborate our understanding of the choice process and, in so doing, raise concerns about the ability of current choice policies to deliver the equity outcomes reformers suggest.

111. Charter, Private, Public Schools and Academic Achievement: New Evidence from NAEP Mathematics Data. 2006.
Author: Chris Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski

<publication forthcoming in the winter issue of American Education Research Journal>
Common wisdom holds that private schools achieve better academic results than public schools.  Assumptions of the superiority of private-style organizational models are reflected in voucher and charter programs, and in the choice provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.  However, most studies that compare achievement between private and public school students either fail to account for differences in student background characteristics or are based on assessments of students who have since graduated from high school.  This analysis compares student achievement in traditional public, private, and charter schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) mathematics exam.  Hierarchical linear modeling is used to control for demographic characteristics and school location.  Findings reveal that demographic differences between students in public and private schools account for the relatively high raw scores of private schools on the NAEP.  Indeed, after controlling for these differences, public school students generally score better than their private school peers.   Three other findings warrant mention.  First, Lutheran schools are the highest performing private schools.  Second, Conservative Christian schools, the fastest growing private school sector, are the lowest performing private schools.  Third, fourth graders in charter schools scored below public school students, but eighth graders in charter schools scored above public school students.  This suggests that assessments of charter schools must pay careful attention to the sample population that is being examined.

112. The Evidence on Education Vouchers: An Application to the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program. 2006.
Author: Clive Belfield

This paper examines the academic achievement effects of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program (CSTP), within the context of existing research on education vouchers. Extant evidence on the demand for private schooling shows religion, race, and family education levels are the most important factors. Extant evidence on school supply shows reasonable supply elasticity from the religious sector and positive (but small) competitive pressures. However, voucher programs show very modest gains in achievement for recipients; and studies highlight the many potential biases when identifying the treatment impacts of vouchers. Turning to the Cleveland program, we find a number of practical similarities between the CSTP and other voucher programs in terms of demand and supply. Overall, we find no academic advantages for voucher users; in fact, users appear to perform slightly worse in math. These results do not vary according to: adjustments for prior ability; intention-to-treat versus treatment effects; and dosage differences. Contrary to claims for other voucher programs, the CSTP is not differentially effective for African American students.

118. Charter School Performance in Urban School Districts: Are They Closing the Achievement Gap? 2006.
Author: Ron Zimmer and Richard Buddin

In the national effort to improve educational achievement, urban districts offer the greatest challenge as they often serve the most disadvantaged students. Many urban leaders, including mayors and school district superintendents, have initiated charter schools, which are publicly supported, autonomously operated schools of choice, as a mechanism of improving learning for these disadvantaged students. In this analysis, we examine the effect charter schools are having on student achievement generally, and on different demographic groups, in two major urban districts in California. The results show that achievement scores in charters are keeping pace, but not exceeding those in traditional public schools. The findings also show that the charter effect does not vary systematically with the race/ethnicity or English proficiency status of students.

122. Is Charter School Competition in California Improving the Performance of Traditional Public Schools? 2006.
Author: Richard Buddin and Ron Zimmer

This research examines the effects of charter schools on traditional public schools. A premise of charter school initiatives has been that these schools have direct benefits for students attending these schools and indirect benefits for other students by creating competition for traditional public schools to improve their performance. Using California data, the analysis examines the responses to a survey of principals in a sample of traditional public schools. In addition, the research assesses how charter school competition affects student-level achievement trends in traditional public schools. The survey results showed that public school principals felt little competitive pressure from charters. Similarly, the student achievement analysis showed that charter competition (measured in a variety of ways) was not improving the performance of traditional public schools.

125. Enrollment Practices in Response to Vouchers: Evidence from Chile. 2006.
Author: Gregory Elacqua

Voucher advocates argue that the introduction of educational vouchers can make improved educational opportunity available to the most disadvantaged children.  Critics contend that vouchers increase the risk of exacerbating inequities based on race and socioeconomic status. They fear that in order to remain competitive and save costs, private schools will have incentives to skim off the highest performing students who are usually least demanding in terms of resources.  Most evidence suggests that unrestricted choice in Chile has exacerbated stratification. Researchers have found that private voucher schools “cream skim” off the high income students while relegating disadvantaged students to public schools.  What has been overlooked, however, is stratification levels within public and private school sectors and variation within private school for-profit and nonprofit (religious and secular) sectors.  In this paper we examine public and private school enrollment practices in response to vouchers.  We find that public schools are more likely to serve disadvantaged student populations than private voucher schools. We also find that the typical public school is more internally diverse with regard to parental income and education than the typical private voucher school.   While differential behavior is also found across private school ownership types, the differences do not always comport with theory.

126. What is the Reality of School Competition? 2006.
Author: Cathy Wylie

Research from countries with broad school choice initiatives has become particularly relevant with the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the potential for all students in failing schools to gain access to new schooling options.  A new paper by Cathy Wylie examines school choice policies in New Zealand.  First, the history of school choice in New Zealand is discussed.  Wylie reveals that 91% of primary students and 84% of secondary students attend their first choice school.  However, roughly 30% of students do not attend schools closest to their homes, suggesting some competition for students between schools.  Second, the impact of school choice on student achievement is examined.  Wylie reports that low-income schools are less likely to produce qualified students and that competition does not appear to have induced these schools to improve.  Third, the paper discusses why competition has not lead to superior student outcomes.  Wylie argues that most schools in New Zealand do not face structural competition, defined as five or more competing schools in close proximity, and most school leaders are not threatened by consistent competition.  Out of 157 schools whose principals were surveyed in 1999 and 2003 by the New Zealand Council of Educational Research, only 17% reported facing competition in both years.  Wylie concludes that it is important to distinguish between offering choice and encouraging competition.

129. Choice, Competition and Pupil Achievement. 2006.
Author: Stephen Gibbons, Stephen Machin, and Olmo Silva

Choice and competition in education have found growing support from both policy makers and academics in the recent past. Yet, evidence on the actual benefits of market-oriented reforms is at best mixed. Moreover, while the economic rationale for choice and competition is clear, in existing work there is rarely an attempt to distinguish between the two concepts. In this paper, we study whether pupils in Primary schools in England with a wider range of school choices achieve better academic outcomes than those whose choice is more limited; and whether Primary schools facing more competition perform better than those in a more monopolistic situation. In simple least squares regression models, we find little evidence of a link between choice and achievement, but uncover a small positive association between competition and school performance. Yet, this could be related to endogenous school location or pupil sorting. In fact, an instrumental variable strategy based on discontinuities generated by admissions district boundaries suggests that the performance gains from greater school competition are limited. Only when we restrict our attention to Faith autonomous schools, which have more freedom in managing their admission practices and governance, do we find evidence of a positive causal link between competition and pupil achievement.

135. A Comparison of Charter Schools and Traditional Public Schools in Idaho. 2007.
Author: Dale Ballou, Bettie Teasley, Tim Zeidner

We investigate the effectiveness of Idaho charter schools relative to traditional public schools, using the average difference in test score gains in the two sectors as well as the student fixed effects estimator favored in the literature. Our findings are quite sensitive to the choice of estimator. When student fixed effects are included, charter schools appear more effective than traditional public schools in the elementary grades. When student fixed effects are omitted, this is no longer true. We attribute the difference to biases associated with heterogeneity in schools and in the quality of school-student matches when the fixed effects estimator is used. We find much less evidence of selection bias, the standard rationale for the fixed effects estimator.

137. Irreconcilable Differences? Education Vouchers and the Suburban Response. 2007.
Author: Chad d'Entremont and Luis A. Huerta

This article discusses the limited use of education vouchers in an era of unprecedented growth in school choice. It is divided into two parts: first, a description of the policy, political, and legal barriers that may limit the expansion of large-scale voucher programs is presented. Discussion then shifts to the efforts of voucher advocates to build support among historically marginalized populations frustrated with the performance of public schools and open to limited forms of private school choice. The authors consider the consequences of these strategies and suggest that the very voucher programs that appeal to disadvantaged families may prove most offensive to middleclass and suburban voters who vigorously object to policies that undermine local authority and redistribute local resources. Specifically, vouchers have the potential to erase municipal boundaries, dissolve neighborhood ties, lower housing prices, and upset student enrollments.

139. The Effect of Winning a First-Choice School Entry Lottery on Student Perfromance: Evidence from a Natural Experiment. 2007.
Author: Fang Lai

This paper exploits the preference-based random assignment of students to middle schools resulting from the educational reform in Beijing’s Eastern City District in 1998. The data set consists of the census data and administrative data on 7,000 students who entered middle school in 1999 and graduated from middle school in June 2002, and the survey and administrative data on school characteristics including school facilities and teacher characteristics. We estimate the effect of entering one’s first-choice school by comparing the lottery winners (i.e. students who were randomly selected into their first-choice school) and lottery losers (i.e. students who were randomly selected out of their first-choice school) within the same lottery of first-choice school. Results show that entering one’s first-choice school does not have significant beneficial effects on the student test scores in the High School Entrance Exam (HSEE) 2002. However, the beneficial effects of entering one’s first-choice school are larger for students who applied to the top-tier schools (i.e. taking a high-stake lottery) than those who chose other schools as their first choice (i.e. taking a low-stake lottery). This indicates that entering one’s first-choice school does bring more beneficial effects on academic performance for students who were more academically ambitious than those who were not.

140. Private School Choice: The Effects of Religious Affiliation and Participation. 2007.
Author: Danny Cohen-Zada and William Sander

In this paper, we quantify the religious factor in private education in the United States by estimating a Random Utility Model of school-choice in which households choose among public, private-nonsectarian, Catholic and Protestant schools. In our model households differ not only in their income levels but also in their religion and religiosity levels. The model is then estimated using multinomial logit and multinomial probit regressions of attendance at different types of private schools using individual data from the General Social Survey . We find that both religion and religiosity have important effects on the demand for the different types of private schools. Further, it is shown that if religiosity is not taken into account (the usual case), the effect of religion on demand is biased. Our results imply that previous studies on the treatment effect of Catholic schools that have not taken into account the selection of high-religiosity youth into Catholic schools overestimate the positive influence of Catholic schools.

141. Are Education Management Organizations Improving Student Achievement? 2007.
Author: Martha Abele Mac Iver and Douglas J. Mac Iver


This longitudinal study of educational reforms in Philadelphia since 2002 uses multilevel change models to analyze the impact of privatization (assignment of schools to be managed by private “Educational Management Organizations” or EMOs) on middle-grades mathematics and reading achievement growth, taking account of the structural reforms (creation of new K-8 schools to replace selected middle schools) occurring simultaneously within the district. Overall, the longitudinal mathematics and reading achievement gains from fifth to eighth grade for students in EMO-managed schools were not larger than those for students in schools managed by the district. Broader systemic reforms, including district-wide increases in the quality and coherence of curriculum and professional development, appear to contribute to broad-based achievement gains in cohorts experiencing those reforms.

145. The Impact of Charter Schools on the Efficiency of Traditional Public Schools: Evidence from Michigan. 2007.
Author: Yongmei Ni

This paper tests the hypothesis that competition from charter schools improves the efficiency of traditional public schools. The analysis utilizes a statewide school-level longitudinal dataset of Michigan schools from 1994 to 2004. Fixed effect methods and two alternative estimations are employed. The results from three alternative estimation strategies consistently show that charter competition has a negative impact on student achievement and school efficiency in Michigan’s traditional public schools. The effect is small or negligible in the short run, but becomes more substantial in the long run, which are consistent with the conception of choice triggering a downward spiral in the most heavily impacted public schools.

146. Measuring the Competitive Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement in Ohio's Traditional Public Schools. 2007.
Author: Matthew Carr and Gary Ritter

This study examines whether charter schools are having the hypothesized positive competitive effect on traditional public school student achievement in Ohio. The research question for this evaluation is as follows: Does the increased competition for students that is created by an increased supply of charter schools in or near a traditional public school system lead to higher student achievement for traditional public school students in the form of higher math and reading scores on the state’s standardized achievement tests? Ohio provides an ideal setting for a competitive effects study because the law allows for independently authorized charters. These schools are far more likely to create competition for students than conversion charters, which are authorized by local school boards. A pooled time series regression design is used to evaluate data from 2002 to 2006. The amount of competition faced by a traditional public school is measured three ways: a dummy variable for whether at least one charter school is located in the same district, the number of charter schools located in the same district, and the market share of charter schools within each district. The paper finds that charter school competition has a consistently small but significant negative effect on the proficiency passage rates of nearby traditional public schools. This finding may be due to a compositional selection effect from charter schools (as charter schools draw higher performing students, the passage rates at the traditional public schools decrease), or a direct negative impact on the quality of the education provided in the nearby traditional public schools (most likely due to decreased resources).

149. The Effect of Charter Schools on Non-Charter Students: An Instrumental Variables Approach. 2008.
Author: Scott A. Imberman

Proponents of charter schools claim that charters provide incentives for non-charter public schools to provide more effort towards improving student performance. However, it is unclear whether schools respond to competition and other mechanisms may counteract competitive impacts. In this paper I investigate how charter schools affect behavior, attendance, and test scores for students in non-charter schools using new data from an anonymous large urban school district (ALUSD). I compare three econometric methods which attempt to account for the endogenous location decision of charter schools - school fixed-effects, school fixed-effects combined with school-specific time-trends, and instrumental variables. Results using school fixed effects with or without school specific time trends suggest that impacts on test scores are statistically insignificant in levels models but significantly positive in value-added models. On the other hand, IV results show consistently negative, and often statistically significant, impacts of charter schools on test scores in both levels and value-added models. However, I also find large and statistically significant improvements in discipline in schools facing charter competition that also differ from the fixed-effects estimates. These results suggest that previous work on this topic may suffer from substantial selection bias.

156. Estimating the School Level Effects of Choice on Academic Achievement in Connecticut’s Magnet, Technical and Charter Schools. 2008
Author: Craig L. Esposito and Casey D. Cobb

Dissatisfaction with schools and student performance has led to the call for different schools and school choice. But do different types of schools produce different outcomes? School choice programs in Connecticut are intended to provide opportunities for curricular diversity, educational innovation, and to “reduce, eliminate, or prevent…racial, ethnic or economic isolation…while offering educational improvement” (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2006). Using the state’s extensive school profile databases and logistic regression, propensity scores were created and used to match choice schools--magnet, technical and charter--with non-choice schools to estimate school level effects of choice schools on academic achievement. In general, performance was not significantly different between the matched choice and non-choice schools.

158. A Comprehensive, Non-Partisan Analysis of Arizona’s Charter School Plan. 2008.
Author: Stephen Chemsak

Arizona’s charter school plan has been called the “gold standard” for charter school plans. The plan has been ranked 1st for its policy environment by researchers, and has received an “A+” for financial audits. It is highly deregulated and includes a huge number of charter schools, the most per capita in the nation. Yet no in-depth, comprehensive, non-partisan analysis of the plan has been conducted. In the past decade, the Arizona plan has encountered shifting political realities and has become the subject of contentious fiscal debates. Utilizing Levin’s (2002) framework, this paper looks first at how the policy instruments of finance, regulation, and support services are being used in Arizona by policymakers to achieve charter schools’ goals. The paper then lays out specific measures or benchmarks for assessing the dimensions of freedom of choice, productive efficiency, equity, and social cohesion, and undertakes a discussion of the likely consequences based on these criteria. Based on this analysis, the issue of charter school finance emerges as a litigious and contested issue in Arizona. Concerns with transportation are highlighted. In addition, it is clear that the large number of charter schools in Arizona correlates with a wide range of charter school missions and philosophies. But recent state involvement in the curriculum and restrictions on school sponsorship could set precedents for limiting or reducing freedom of choice. Arizona policymakers have stressed efficiency in intent and on paper, but there is little available evidence that levels of this dimension are high. Together with likely low levels of equity and debatably similar or lower levels of social cohesion, the conclusion is that on balance there is little basis upon which Arizona’s charter schools could claim any significant general advantage over their non-charter public counterparts.

160. Circles of influence: How neighborhood demographics and charter school locations influence student enrollments. 2008.
Author: Chad d’Entremont and Charisse Gulosino

This paper uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and dynamic mapping to examine student enrollments in New Jersey charter schools. Consistent with previous research, we find evidence of increased racial segregation. Greater percentages of African-Americans attend charter schools than reside in surrounding areas. We add to the existing charter school literature by examining student enrollments across three geographic scales: school districts, census tracts and block groups. We demonstrate that racial segregation is most severe within charter schools’ immediate neighborhoods (i.e. block groups), suggesting that analyses comparing charter schools to larger school districts or nearby public schools may misrepresent student sorting. This finding results from the tendency of charter schools in New Jersey to locate just outside predominately African-American neighborhoods, encircling the residential locations of the students they are most likely to enroll.

163. School Vouchers and Student Achievement: Recent Evidence, Remaining Questions. 2008.
Author: Cecilia Elena Rouse and Lisa Barrow

In this article, we review the empirical evidence on the impact of education vouchers on student achievement, and briefly discuss the evidence from other forms of school choice. The best research to date finds relatively small achievement gains for students offered education vouchers, most of which are not statistically different from zero. Further, what little evidence exists regarding the potential for public schools to respond to increased competitive pressure generated by vouchers suggests that one should remain wary that large improvements would result from a more comprehensive voucher system. The evidence from other forms of school choice is also consistent with this conclusion. Many questions remain unanswered, however, including whether vouchers have longer-run impacts on outcomes such as graduation rates, college enrollment, or even future wages, and whether vouchers might nevertheless provide a cost neutral alternative to our current system of public education provision at the elementary and secondary school level.

Prepared for publication in Annual Review of Economics, Vol. 1 (2009)

164. Moving On: Why Students Move Between Districts Under Open Enrollment. 2008.
Author: John F. Witte, Deven E. Carlson and Lesley Lavery

Over the past twenty years states have used various methods to expand the schooling options available to public school students and their parents. Many of these programs, such as charter schools, private school vouchers, and magnet schools are broadly recognizable and have been thoroughly studied in the academic literature. Other programs, such as interdistrict open enrollment, the focus of this paper, are less visible and have gone largely unstudied by academics and policy analysts. The dearth of studies on this topic occurs in spite of the fact that, in most states, interdistrict open enrollment policies serve more students than all other public school choice programs combined. This paper attempts to partially fill this void in the literature by analyzing open enrollment patterns and trends in two states, Minnesota and Colorado. The paper begins by describing the political development of open enrollment in the United States broadly, with the situations in Colorado and Minnesota addressed in greater detail. It then moves on to analyzing the factors that affect the number of students choosing to open enroll into and out of a school district.
The analyses in this paper are based on detailed district-level data from the Minnesota and Colorado Departments of Education. We use two separate sets of models to study the open enrollment processes in each state. The first set of models, which we refer to as “macro” models, uses OLS to model the aggregate number of students entering and leaving a district under open enrollment. The second set of models, which we term “micro” models, use generalized least squares with random effects controls to model each open enrollment “transaction” between districts in terms of where student go or come from. In the micro analysis we employ the precise differences between districts with respect to several characteristics to try to understand the student flows.
Estimation of these models reveals that interdistrict transfer choices are based on multiple factors, including the socioeconomic characteristics and academic performance of school districts. Specifically, districts with higher percentages of students eligible for free lunch have more students open enroll out of the district and fewer students open enroll into the district than districts with lower percentages of students eligible for free lunch. A similar trend is seen for academic performance; high-performing districts have more students entering and fewer students leaving relative to their lower-performing peers. The policy implications of these findings cut in two directions. If interdistrict transfer becomes increasingly prevalent, as it already is in some of the metropolitan areas in this study, open enrollment will cause further segregation in terms of achievement levels and socioeconomic characteristics between districts. On the other hand, such transfers also allow families an easier route to a more desirable school system than residential location, which has been the traditional assignment mechanism.

165. Luck of the Draw? On the Fairness of Charter School Admissions Policies. 2008.
Author: Jonathan R. Dolle and Anne Newman

This paper examines the fairness of charter school admissions lotteries from a philosophical perspective, with a focus on California charter schools. Lotteries are an intuitively fair mechanism for distributing some valued social goods in short supply. In theory, using lotteries to determine admission is fair because it gives equally deserving students the same chance to enroll. Yet charter admissions lotteries are more complicated than simply drawing lots, raising questions about their fairness in practice. For example, charters often incorporate tiered preferences into their lotteries, increasing the chances that certain types of students get admitted. Also, because the outcomes of lotteries are supposed to be random, their fairness is hard to determine, ex post. And the integrity of some research findings comparing charter schools and regular public schools depends, in part, on the integrity of charter admissions processes. In light of these concerns, we investigate the fairness of admissions lotteries in two parts. First, we survey how oversubscribed charters in California structure their admissions process, and we raise concerns about the fairness of some existing preferences and lottery procedures. Second, we develop a philosophical argument about the nature of fair lotteries, arguing that in addition to using fair procedures, charter admissions lotteries require greater transparency and accountability. Finally, we conclude with several policy recommendations for improving the fairness of admissions lotteries in light of our concerns about current practices.

166. Is there a Difference Between For-Profit Versus Not-For-Profit Charter Schools? 2008.
Author: Cynthia D. Hill and David M. Welsch

The role of for-profit educational organizations in the predominantly public and not-for-profit K-12 U.S. schooling system is being fiercely debated across our nation. Little empirical research is available to help policy makers develop informed decisions regarding the educational value that for-profit schools provide to our students. This paper fills in part, for the first time in detail, this void. This paper uses a four year panel of charter schools from the state of Michigan and a random effects model that controls for student and district characteristics. Results indicate that for-profit charter schools have lower math test scores than not-for-profit charter schools. Interestingly, this result holds even when expenditure per pupil is controlled for. The analysis developed in this paper takes the debate one step further as well, and examines the role that the size of for-profit firms plays in the associated outcomes.

172. Public School Choice And Integration: Evidence from Durham, North Carolina. 2009.
Author: Robert Bifulco, Helen F. Ladd, and Stephen Ross

Using evidence from Durham, North Carolina, we examine the impact of school choice programs on racial and class-based segregation across schools. Theoretical considerations suggest that how choice programs affect segregation will depend not only on the family preferences emphasized in the sociology literature but also on the linkages between student composition, school quality and student achievement emphasized in the economics literature. Reasonable assumptions about the distribution of preferences over race, class, and school characteristics suggest that the segregating choices of students from advantaged backgrounds are likely to outweigh any integrating choices by disadvantaged students. The results of our empirical analysis are consistent with these theoretical considerations. Using information on the actual schools students attend and on the schools in their assigned attendance zones, we find that schools in Durham are more segregated by race and class as a result of school choice programs than they would be if all students attended their geographically assigned schools. In addition, we find that the effects of choice on segregation by class are larger than the effects on segregation by race.

174. Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Three Years (NCEE 2009-4050). 2009.
Author: Patrick Wolf, Babette Gutmann, Michael Puma, Brian Kisida, Lou Rizzo and Nada Eissa

The DC School Choice Incentive Act of 2003 established the first federally funded private school voucher program in the United States, providing scholarships of up to $7,500 for low-income residents of the District of Columbia to send their children to local participating private schools. The law also mandated that the Department conduct an independent, rigorous impact evaluation of what is now called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The study's latest report, Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Three Years, measures the effects of the Program on student achievement in reading and math, and on student and parent perceptions of school satisfaction and safety.

The evaluation found that the OSP improved reading, but not math, achievement overall and for 5 of 10 subgroups of students examined. The group designated as the highest priority by Congress — students applying from "schools in need of improvement" (SINI) — did not experience achievement impacts. Students offered scholarships did not report being more satisfied or feeling safer than those who were not offered scholarships, however the OSP did have a positive impact on parent satisfaction and perceptions of school safety. This same pattern of findings holds when the analysis is conducted to determine the impact of using a scholarship rather than being offered a scholarship.

Miscellaneous Additional Studies and Reports

Fixing the Milwaukee Public Schools: The Limits of Parent-Driven Reform (2007)
By David Dodenhoff, PhD.

Taken as a whole, these numbers indicate significant limits on the capacity of public school choice and parental involvement to improve school quality and student performance within MPS. Parents simply do not appear sufficiently engaged in available choice opportunities or their children’s educational activities to ensure the desired outcomes.

This may be just as well. Relying on public school choice and parental involvement to reclaim MPS may be a distraction from the hard work of fixing the district’s schools. Recognizing this, the question is whether the district, its schools, and its supporters in Madison are prepared to embrace more radical reforms. Given the high stakes involved, district parents should insist on nothing less.

Failed Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in the Twin Cities (November 2008)

After two decades of experience, most charter schools in the Twin Cities still underperform comparable traditional public schools and intensify racial and economic segregation in the Twin Cities schools. This is the conclusion of a new report issued today by the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota Law School.

The Media and Educational Research: What We Know vs. What the Public Hears

News reports of education research frequently do not appear to take account of whether such research is peer reviewed. Various education research journals and research organizations that release research on education topics were surveyed to determine whether they subject their research to external peer review. While journals responding consistently employed peer review processes, only some research organizations did. Of four organizations widely perceived as having an ideological stance, only one reported subjecting its research to outside peer review. Research organizations, whether their work was peer-reviewed or not, employed a variety of media strategies to draw attention to their work. Journals with rigorous peer review processes did not report sophisticated strategies to draw media attention to their findings. The absence of consistent peer review in education research that succeeds in winning public attention creates a risk that sound policy may be subverted by the promotion of priorities that are not founded on solid social science research or that do not rely the best available research knowledge.

The Research that Reaches the Public: Who Produces the Educational Research Mentioned in the News Media?

Author(s): Yettick, Holly
Year: 2009


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