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Study Finds Grad, College-Going Results Mixed for Charter Networks

From guest blogger Christina A. Samuels:

A follow-up to a major national study on the performance of charter school networks shows that they have varied results on their students' high school graduation rates and on their postsecondary enrollment.

The study shows that, of the six charter-management organizations for which data were available, three have significant positive impacts on graduation compared to the traditional public schools in their area. One of those organizations increased the probability that its students graduate from high school in four years by 23 percentage points.

Two other charter-management groups have positive but not statistically significant impacts on graduation. And one network had a serious negative impact on the graduation rates of its students compared to the local public schools, reducing the probability that students would graduate on time by 22 percentage points.

The report was released by Mathematica and the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell. The groups released a study in November showing similarly mixed results on the academic performance of students in charter networks, but that report was based on middle school results. The update includes new data on high school and college performance, but the conclusions are essentially the same.

The researchers examined 40 CMOs with 292 schools in 14 states, all of which were nonprofits that controlled at least four schools and had at least four schools open in the fall of 2007. The report does not, however, disclose the names of the networks involved in the study. It was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation of Seattle and the Walton Family Foundation with project management assistance from the NewSchools Venture Fund, which focuses on changing public education for low-income children. (In the interest of disclosure, Gates provides operating support for Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit that runs Education Week and edweek.org and Walton helps supports coverage of parent-empowerment issues in Education Week.)

The researchers were able to gather postsecondary information on four of the charter-management organizations. Two had large positive impacts on college enrollment rates—increasing the likelihood of college entry by 21 and 23 percentage points, respectively. Two other networks did not have any noticeable impacts on college entry rates.

"The message for a city or a district that wants to work with one of these groups is to be sure to look at the overall record for success at each of these schools," said Robin Lake, the associate director of the CRPE.

The study of charter management networks showed some common themes among high-performing networks: strong student-behavior policies (often referred to as a culture of high expectations) and intensive teacher coaching and monitoring. The researchers plan to release a report in March that examines those practices in more detail.

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