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When charter schools first entered the landscape, the debate was contentious, with both advocates and critics using strong rhetoric. Advocates often sold charter schools as a silver bullet solution for not only the students who attend these schools, but the broader traditional public school system as well. Similarly, critics painted charter schools as an apocalyptic threat to public schools. To inform this debate, research has evolved over time, with much of the first generation (through about 2005) of research studies focusing on the effect charter schools have on test scores almost exclusively using non-experimental designs. The second generation of studies more frequently used experimental designs and broadened the scope of outcomes beyond test scores. Furthermore, the second generation of studies has also included studies seeking to explain the variance in performance. In this survey of the research, we summarize the findings across both generations of studies, but we put a greater emphasis on the second generation than prior literature reviews. This includes an examination of indirect effects, examination of explanation of charter effectiveness, and the recent use of charter schools as a mechanism of turning around low-performing schools.
Access to private schools and public charter schools might improve parent and student satisfaction through competitive pressures and improved matches between educators and students. Using a nationally representative sample of 13,436 students in the United States in 2016, I find that public charter schools and private schools outperform traditional public schools on six measures of parent and student satisfaction. Respondents with children in private schools also tend to report higher levels of satisfaction than respondents with children in public charter schools. The results are robust to various analytic techniques and specifications.
While school choice may enhance competition, incentives for public schools to raise productivity may be muted if public education is viewed as imperfectly substitutable with alternatives. This paper estimates the aggregate effect of charter school expansion on education quality while accounting for the horizontal differentiation of charter school programs. To do so, we combine student-level administrative data with novel information about the educational programs of charter schools that opened in North Carolina following the removal of the statewide cap in 2011. The dataset contains students' standardized test scores as well as geocoded residential addresses, which allow us to compare the test score changes of students who lived near the new charters prior to the policy change with those for students who lived farther away. We apply this research design to estimate separate treatment effects for exposure to charter schools that are and are not differentiated horizontally from public school instruction. The results indicate learning gains for treated students that are driven entirely by non-horizontally differentiated charter schools: we find that non-horizontally differentiated charter school expansion causes a 0.05 SD increase in math scores. These learning gains are driven by public schools responding to increased competition.
I compare per pupil revenues, expenditures, and performance levels in public charter schools to district-run public schools in Texas for the 2017-18 school year. After controlling for several school and student characteristics, I find that public charter schools are funded around $1,700 (15 percent) less, and spend around $3,700 (28 percent) less, per pupil than district-run public schools. Public charter schools demonstrate cost-effectiveness advantages between 8 and 42 percent, depending on the model employed, over district-run public schools in Texas. I also find evidence to suggest per pupil spending is positively related to state testing outcomes for public charter schools, but not for district-run public schools.
The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the first modern private school choice program in the United States, has grown from 341 students attending 7 private schools in 1990 to 27,857 students attending 126 private schools in 2019. The MPCP has been subject to extensive study focused largely on student performance on standardized tests. This study presents new data on the college enrollment, persistence, and graduation of MPCP and MPS students who were tracked over 12 years beginning in 2006. MPCP participants are compared with a matched sample of MPS students who lived in the same neighborhood and had similar demographic characteristics and test scores at the beginning of the study. The collective evidence in this paper indicates that students in the MPCP program have greater educational attainment than the comparison group, as measured by college experience and outcomes. Most of the college attainment benefits of the MPCP are clear for both students who were in ninth grade at the beginning of the study, for whom positive attainment effects have previously been reported, and students who were initially enrolled in grades three through eight, who we examine here for the first time. As of 2018, MPCP students have spent more total years in a four-year college than their MPS peers. The MPCP students in the grade three through eight sample attained college degrees at rates that are statistically significantly higher than their matched MPS peers.
Using novel variation in special education and English Language Learner classification from admissions lotteries, I find that students can achieve large academic gains without specialized services. Enrolling in a Boston charter school doubles the likelihood that students lose their special education or English Language Learner status, but exposes students to a high-performing general education program that includes high intensity tutoring, data driven instruction, and increased instructional time. The positive effects extend to college: charters nearly double the likelihood that English Language Learners enroll in four-year colleges and quadruple the likelihood that special education students graduate from two-year college. A multiple instrument strategy suggests that high quality general education practices drive the gains and finds no detrimental effect from lower classification rates.
Debates in education policy draw on different theories about how to raise children’s achievement. The school competition theory holds that achievement rises when families can choose among competing schools. The school resource theory holds that achievement rises with school spending and resources that spending can buy. The family resources theory holds that children’s achievement rises with parental education and income. We test all three theories in Chile between 2002 and 2013, when reading and math scores rose by 0.2-0.3 standard deviations, while school competition, school resources, and family resources all increased. In a difference in differences analysis, we ask which Chilean municipalities saw the greatest increases in test scores. Test scores did not rise faster in municipalities with greater increases in competition, but did rise faster in municipalities with greater increases in school resources (teachers per student) and especially family resources (parental education, not income). Student grade point averages show similar patterns. Results contradict the school competition theory but fit the family resource theory and, to a lesser extent, the school resource theory.
The vast majority of literature on school choice, and charter schools in particular, focus on attending an elementary or middle school and often focus on test scores or other proximal outcomes. Much less is known about the long-term effects of attending a charter high school. It is important to fill this information void for a few reasons. First, schools in general affect more than just students’ test scores. Second, high schools make up a larger share of the charter sector. Third, school choice depends on freely available information for parents and students to make informed decisions about where to attend, including potential long-term benefits. We add to the empirical research on charter school effects by using a doubly-robust regression-adjusted propensity score matching approach to evaluate the impacts of charter high school attendance on 9th grade behavioral outcomes and individuals propensity to commit crime and participate in elections as young adults in North Carolina, a state with a large and growing charter school sector.
The early childhood enrollment process involves searching for programs, applying, verifying eligibility(for publicly funded seats), and enrolling. Many families do not complete the process. We conducted a randomized controlled trial to assess strategies for communicating with families as they verify eligibility. Working with administrators in New Orleans, we randomly assigned families to receive either: (1) the district’s usual, modest communications, (2) the usual communications plus weekly text-message reminders formal in tone, or (3) the usual communications plus weekly text-messages reminders friendly and personal in tone. Text-message reminders increased verification rates by seven percentage points (regardless of tone), and personalized messages increased enrollment rates for some groups. The exchanges between parents and administrators reveal the key obstacles that parents confronted.
In this paper, we study the roles of expertise and independence on governing boards in the context of education. In particular, we examine the causal influence of professional educators elected to local school boards on education production. Educators may bring valuable human capital to school district leadership, thereby improving student learning. Alternatively, the independence of educators may be distorted by interest groups. The key empirical challenge is that school board composition is endogenously determined through the electoral process. To overcome this, we develop and implement a novel research design that exploits California's randomized assignment of the order that candidates appear on election ballots. The insight of our empirical strategy is that ballot order effects generate quasi-random variation in the elected school board's composition. This approach is made possible by a unique dataset that combines election information about California school board candidates with district-level data on education inputs and outcomes. The results reveal that educators on the school board causally increase teacher salaries and reduce district enrollment in charter schools relative to other board members. We do not find accompanying effects on student test scores. We interpret these findings as consistent with educators on school boards shifting bargaining in favor of teachers' unions.