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Study: Charter Schools Not Keeping Their Promise to America's Students

by Kevin Hart

Charter schools were designed to be the next great experiment in public education, but new research by Stanford University shows that, for the vast majority of students, that experiment is failing.

The study, conducted by the university’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, analyzed student performance in 15 states and the District of Columbia, amassing data on roughly 70 percent of students enrolled in charter schools nationwide. Researchers found that only a small percentage of these students fared better after enrolling in a charter school.

“The issue of quality is the most pressing problem that the charter school movement faces,” said Margaret Raymond, the center’s director. Raymond added that charter school proponents need to focus more on closing poorly performing schools and accepting the accountability that is supposed to be part of the charter school experiment.

Closer scrutiny of charter schools’ effectiveness becomes especially crucial at a time when President Barack Obama is calling for states to lift their caps on the growth of such facilities, and is threatening to withhold federal funds to those who do not.

“The public discussions so far about what changes need to take place in education have focused far too narrowly on charter schools,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. Removing barriers that keep all educators and public schools from innovating, as charter schools are lauded for doing, can lead to “successes for all public schools."

Authors of the Stanford study compared charter students with demographically similar public school peers, and found that 37 percent of charter school students posted scores on state math assessments that were significantly worse than their public school peers. Forty-six percent of charter school students achieved math scores that were indistinguishable from their public school counterparts.

That means that only 17 percent of charter school students -- roughly one out of every six -- performed better than public school students on state math assessments. In fact, charter school students were more than twice as likely to post math scores that were significantly worse than their public school peers.

The Stanford study, which is being called the first nationwide assessment of charter school performance, also found that charter school students, on average, lagged behind their public school counterparts in performance on state reading assessments, although the difference was not as stark as the discrepancies in math scores.

To view the results of the study, visit


NEA's Policy on Charter Schools