Texas charters meet and surpass traditional public schools in achievement: CREDO

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Texas charters meet and surpass traditional public schools in achievement: CREDO

A new study shows that Texas charter schools have outperformed traditional public schools in reading and closed their achievement gap in math, according to Stanford University researchers.

Compared to their peers in traditional public schools, Texas charter school students gained the equivalent of more than 3 school weeks of additional learning in reading, and closed their performance gap in math, according to a study published by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes on Wednesday.

The results follow similar CREDO studies from 2013 and 2015, which showed Texas charter schools still lagging behind their traditional public counterparts. The 2017 results used data from the 2011-2012 and 2014-2015 school years, revealing a positive improvement trend overtime in addition to the gains over traditional public schools.

In order to calculate the effect of choosing a charter school, CREDO’s analyses use pairs of “virtual twins” who attended similar feeder schools in the traditional public system before one left for a charter. These students are matched by grade level and retention status, gender, race/ethnicity, low-income status, English language proficiency, special education status, and prior test scores on Texas achievement tests. Comparing test result improvements overtime for these matched pairs, CREDO then translates the difference into days of learning within a 180 day school calendar.

Charter schools first opened in Texas in 1995, with an estimated 761 charter schools serving over 315,200 students, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The state is home to a district with the 9th highest market share for charter students within a district (San Antonio ISD at 30 percent), and another with 6th most charter students in the country (Houston ISD with nearly 56,000 pupils). Seeing Texas’ charter sector improve overtime to finally surpass the traditional public system shows that while not all schools of choice may be high quality, giving parents a choice helps close bad schools and reward better ones overtime.

The study contained a few interesting highlights. Hispanic students, nearly 60% of Texas’ charter population, fared particularly well compared to their traditional public school peers, gaining nearly a month of learning reading and 17 days in math thanks to charter schools.  Additionally, while charter students overall performed worse in the first year at their new school, they started making gains by their second year after adjusting to the new environment.

CREDO’s results show that in education, as in any other part of life, incentives matter. When parents can choose where to send their children (and their children’s education dollars), schools have to compete, and that’s better for everyone involved. In the charter sector, the money follows the child, which is why schools that serve their students better win out. Texas charter schools’ improvements overtime show this process happening first hand.

Tyler Koteskey is an education policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.