Charter Schools Boost Graduation Rates and College Attendance
A study (non-gated, working version) in the latest Journal of Labor Economics shows that students attending charter schools are significantly more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than similar students in traditional public schools. The authors examined students in Florida and Chicago and used a myriad of controls to ensure that the charter school students it compared to other public school students were, in fact, comparable. They found that “among students who attended a charter middle school, those who went on to attend a charter high school were 7 to 15 percentage points more likely to earn a standard diploma than students who transitioned to a traditional public high school. Similarly, those attending a charter high school were 8 to 10 percentage points more likely to attend college.”
A quick look at the available evidence suggests that the same holds true here in Missouri. Although it does not contain the same rigorous controls as the study of Florida and Chicago charters, a 2010 study by the Missouri General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Education reported that seven of eight charter schools in Kansas City and Saint Louis city achieved higher graduation rates in 2009 than the surrounding school districts, and six of eight beat the state average. Critics often accuse charters of skimming off the best public school students, but in Missouri that is emphatically not the case. The charter law requires one third of charter schools to actively recruit and serve dropouts and high-risk students.
With regard to college attendance, a quick look through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s data indicates that, with the exception of two schools in Kansas City, all charter high schools send graduates on to college at a comparable or higher rate than their public school counterparts. It should also be noted that if a charter is sending graduates to college at the same rate as the public schools they supplement, but have higher overall graduation rates, students who attend those schools are still more likely to attend college than are their public school counterparts.
The evidence in Missouri appears clear: Charter schools improve educational attainment for students in Kansas City and Saint Louis. Perhaps it is time to expand charters beyond those narrow confines.