I haven’t read the new CREDO study, but the results are not all that surprising.

Taken from Kevin Drum’s summary:

Generally speaking, the study shows positive charter results for:
  • Black and Hispanic students
  • Students in poverty
  • Urban students
  • Schools in northeastern states
  • Charter Management Organizations (CMOs)

… It’s not clear why the results line up this way. Poor urban charters are probably almost entirely Black and Hispanic, so the strong results for these groups are likely because urban charters are systemically different from suburban charters in some way. The report doesn’t speculate about what this difference might be, and I don’t have any guesses myself.

I’m more than willing to speculate.

  1. Charter management organizations professionalize central office functions like school districts spread over multiple schools versus replicating administrative functions at a single site at high cost. This leads to both higher quality staff and operations and lower operational costs that allow for greater investment in student learning. Also, expansion as a CMO, in at least some states, requires a track record of success generally.
  2. Northeastern states have more robust charter authorizing policies from the perspective of ensuring quality. They tend to be stricter about opening new charters and likely disproportionately have oversubscribed charters only.
  3. Urban students are coming from school systems with lower absolute performance and growth is asymmetric. It’s likely that it’s easier to grow from low baselines (we see this with “most improved” on absolute scores for things like NAEP or international comparisons like PISA almost always happening in lower, absolute, performers). So improvements should be more pronounced from lower baselines.
  4. The same argument for urban students applies to students in poverty and Black and Hispanic students, all being highly correlated. There’s also (in Northeastern urban charters) a reasonable likelihood of a more diverse teaching force and more direct focus on improving achievement for these specific subgroups of students (sometimes it’s a part of the process of getting a charter!).

Places like Ohio look bad because Ohio lets lots of people who have no idea how to run schools run schools with no meaningful consequences. The charters there seem to routinely go bust on financial mismanagement. Bad charter law (re: no accountability, few limits) results in bad charters.

I find discussing “charters” frustrating because the term itself lacks a universal definition. The legal structures governing charter schools vary greatly from state to state. Some of these structures are effective at producing higher quality charter schools, others, not so much. Unfortunately, each interest group involved in the charter school debate has their own agenda. As a result, their assessments of high or low-quality charter laws are often misguided. I believe charter school success should be measured by the educational outcomes they provide for students in underperforming school systems. However, the focus of groups assessing charter authorizing laws tends to be on factors like sector expansion, alternative notions of “choice” or “competition,” or even a desire to eliminate charter schools altogether.

One more thought– suburban charter schools primarily cater to students already enrolled in well-performing schools. These charter schools are established to address the specific preferences of relatively affluent parents who, for various reasons, feel that their needs are not being met by traditional neighborhood schools. For instance, in certain states (which will remain unnamed), it appears that the charter school sector exists with the purpose of segregating white students from their Black counterparts. These schools serve students who are already academically successful and, in many cases, prioritize fulfilling parental preferences that are unrelated or even contrary to educational outcomes.