James V. Shuls, Ph.D.
This week, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University released an impressive study about the impact of charter schools. On average, the results are modest, but positive for charter schools.

The CREDO study updates a 2009 study of charter schools in 16 states, which included Missouri, and expands the study to now include 27 states. These states enroll more than 95 percent of all charter school students.

School choice critics often cited the 2009 study because charter schools performed slightly worse, on average, than their traditional school counterparts. In the updated analysis, charter schools in the original 16 states improved significantly relative to district schools. Now, the average charter school in those states outperforms the traditional public school in reading and has closed the gap but still performs worse in math.

The primary reason for the improvement of charter schools was the closure of low-performing schools. Using statistical methods, the researchers converted student achievement gains into days of learning. Charter schools that closed since the 2009 study “posted an average of 72 fewer days of learning in reading and 80 fewer days of learning in math before closure.”

In the 27-state analysis, the results are even more positive for charter schools. “Overall, students attending charter schools have eight additional days of learning in reading and similar learning gains in math compared to their peers attending traditional public schools.”

Missouri charter schools performed particularly well in comparison to district schools. On average, students in Missouri charter schools learned significantly more in reading and math. These gains translate to nearly three weeks more learning in reading and more than a month of extra learning in math.

Before I paint too rosy of a picture, the results were not positive across the board. Just like district-run public schools, there is tremendous variation in Missouri and across the nation. The beauty of charter schools, as we have seen, is that the low-performing ones close.

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.