Missouri Charter School Students Win
Missouri’s two flagship cities—St. Louis and Kansas City—face myriad challenges, such as declining population in St. Louis and high rates of poverty and crime in both cities. The public school system in each city has struggled to educate students who often bring many challenges with them to the classroom. One bright spot has been the dozens of charter schools that have opened in the last twenty years. More than half of the students in Kansas City have left Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) for charters, and many of those charters have become some of the highest-performing schools in the state. Similarly, nearly 40 percent of St. Louis students have chosen charters over St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS).
It seems those families have made the right choice. The highest-quality research on the academic impact of charter schools consistently comes from the Stanford Center for Research on Education, also known as CREDO. Because charter schools are independently run, they often cater to unique populations of students, which makes them difficult to compare to traditional public schools. Further, some argue that charter schools “skim the cream”—only taking the best students— giving them an unfair advantage. CREDO overcomes this by creating a “virtual twin” for each charter school student. This twin is a student (or combination of students) with identical traits and prior year test scores who attended the same traditional public school that the charter school student would have attended. CREDO’s most recent study matched 1.9 million charter school students with 6.5 million traditional public school students.
Then, to make the studies user friendly, the complex results are translated into days of learning. Imagine a 4th grader performing at exactly the state average on the state’s math or reading test. Then imagine that same student doing that again in 5th grade. That student would then have exactly average academic growth in one year, or 180 days of growth, based on the typical school year.
CREDO’s most recent report found that Missouri charter school students gained 39 more days of growth in reading and 56 more days of growth in math than their matched twins in KCPS and SLPS. Those results are staggering. Students in charter schools gained one quarter to one third of a year of learning more than their traditional public school peers.
So, should Missouri open more charter schools? Or should districts sign moratoriums to prevent expansion? Should families in Springfield or Columbia be able to access these schools that have an incentive to perform? Or should they remain stuck in their declining public schools? Critics continue to say that charter schools are an unproven fad. The CREDO research should cause them to think twice about that claim.