Charter schools

Charter schools are publicly financed schools that are not subject to many of the regulations that govern traditional public schools such as staffing, curriculum, and budgeting requirements (Mathematica-Clark 2011). Entities allowed to authorize charter schools vary by state, but often include local school boards, state boards of education, state departments of education, state universities, and other independent entities (CER-FAQ). 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased academic achievement

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is mixed evidence regarding charter schools’ effect on students’ academic outcomes. Some charter schools yield better academic outcomes for students than traditional public schools (TPS), and some yield worse outcomes (CRPE-Betts 2011, Mathematica-Clark 2011). When effects are averaged, however, charter schools demonstrate similar outcomes to traditional schools overall (Mathematica-Clark 2011, ).

Individual charter schools’ outcomes vary widely (, CRPE-Betts 2011), and can vary more dramatically than TPS outcomes (Mathematica-Zimmer 2013). On average, elementary students may improve slightly more in reading and math in charter schools than in TPS (CRPE-Betts 2011). Low income students (, Mathematica-Clark 2011), low-achieving students (Mathematica-Clark 2011), English language learners, special education students, and students in urban areas have also demonstrated slightly larger gains (CRPE-Betts 2011). Conversely, high-achieving (Mathematica-Clark 2011) and advantaged students have demonstrated less academic achievement in charter schools than in TPS in some circumstances (Mathematica-Clark 2011, CRPE-Betts 2011).

Some charter schools, such as "No Excuses" schools, can improve students’ academic outcomes more than other charter schools or TPS (, ). In general, charter schools that offer frequent teacher feedback, use data to assess and modify instruction, intensively tutor students, offer more instructional time than traditional schools, and demand rigorous behavioral and academic performance can yield stronger effects than other charter schools (, , Mathematica-Furgeson 2012).

Academic outcomes, graduation, and college entry may also be linked to a school’s charter management organization (Mathematica-Booker 2014). One study of charter schools in Ohio, for example, indicates that schools authorized by nonprofits are associated with worse academic outcomes than those authorized by school districts, county educational service centers, or state government ().

Evidence of charter schools’ effects on TPS is inconclusive. A Milwaukee-based survey suggests that traditional schools sometimes increase marketing efforts in response to charter schools (Loeb 2011). Some charter schools are associated with increases in local student segregation by school (), others are not (Zimmer 2009).

Charter school expenditures appear partly driven by state funding formulas. In 2009, sampled charter school management organizations spent between $5,000 and $20,000 per pupil, and averaged about $11,000 per pupil (Mathematica-Furgeson 2012). Traditional public schools spent an average of $11,665 per pupil in 2009 (Kids Count).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

In 2011, 5,714 charter schools in 39 states and the District of Columbia served approximately 1.9 million students, or about 3.5% of American K-12 students (CER-K-12 Facts).

Implementation Resources

NCSRC - National Charter School Resource Center. CONNECT. Resources to build top-notch charter schools.

US ED-CSP - US Department of Education (US ED). Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII). Charter schools program (CSP).

NCSL-Charter - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Charter schools.

Citations - Evidence

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CRPE-Betts 2011 - Betts J, Tang YE. The effect of charter schools on student achievement: A meta-analysis of the literature. Seattle: Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE); 2011.

Mathematica-Furgeson 2012 - Furgeson J, Gill B, Haimson J, et al. Charter-school management organizations: Diverse strategies and diverse student impacts. Princeton: Mathematica Research Policy (MPR), Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE); 2012.

Mathematica-Clark 2011 - Clark MA, Gleason P, Tuttle CC, Silverberg MK. Do charter schools improve student achievement? Evidence from a national randomized study. Princeton: Mathematica Policy Research (MPR); 2011.

Zimmer 2012* - Zimmer R, Gill B, Booker K, Lavertu S, Witte J. Examining charter student achievement effects across seven states. Economics of Education Review. 2012;31(2):213–24.

Mathematica-Zimmer 2013 - Zimmer R, Gill B, Attridge J, Obenauf K. Charter school authorizers and student achievement. Princeton: Mathematica Policy Research (MPR); 2013.

Loeb 2011 - Loeb S, Valant J, Kasman M. Increasing choice in the market for schools: Recent reforms and their effects on student achievement. National Tax Journal. 2011;64(1):141-64.

CREDO-Davis 2012* - Davis DH, Raymond ME. Choices for studying choice: Assessing charter school effectiveness using two quasi-experimental methods. Economics of Education Review. 2012;31(2):225–36.

Zimmer 2009 - Zimmer R, Gill B, Booker K, Lavertu S, Witte J. Do charter schools “cream skim” students and increase racial-ethnic segregation? Nashville: National Center on School Choice (NCSC), Vanderbilt University Peabody College; 2009.

Kids Count - Kids Count Data Center. A project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Dobbie 2013* - Dobbie W, Fryer Jr. RG. Getting beneath the veil of effective schools: Evidence from New York City. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. 2013;5(4):28–60.

Mathematica-Booker 2014 - Booker K, Gill B, Sass T, Zimmer R. Charter high schools’ effects on long-term attainment and earnings. Mathematica Policy Research (MPR); 2014.

Angrist 2013* - Angrist JD, Pathak PA, Walters CR. Explaining charter school effectiveness. American Economic Journal. 2013;5(4):1-27.

Zimmer 2014* - Zimmer R, Gill B, Attridge J, Obenauf K. Charter school authorizers and student achievement. Education Finance and Policy. 2014;9(1):59-85.

Ni 2010* - Ni Y. The sorting effect of charter schools on student composition in traditional public schools. Educational Policy. 2010;26(2):215-242.

Citations - Implementation Examples

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CER-K-12 Facts - Center for Education Reform (CER). K-12 Facts.

Date Last Updated

Jul 31, 2014