A new study released by the University of California, Berkeley has found that children who enroll in charter schools in Los Angeles are already outperforming their peers who attend traditional public schools — but then they advance even further, especially those who attend charter schools as middle school students.
The report, "Differing Effects From Diverse Charter Schools," determined that those children who enroll in charter schools as elementary or high school students show higher test scores than their peers who attend traditional public schools. Elementary school charter students were found to benefit from steeper learning curves than their public school peers, while high school charters were not any more or less effective than traditional schools in increasing student performance.
"Our study reveals two distinct charter movements," said Bruce Fuller, author of Inside Charter Schools. "Conversion charters often serve middle-class families on the west side of the L.A. district and in San Fernando Valley, while newly created charter schools continue to locate more in blue-collar and poor neighborhoods."
Researchers observed 66,000 students between 2007 and 2011, finding that schools that had converted to become charter schools were more likely to attract more experienced teachers with higher credentials and were more likely to enroll more affluent families, than startup, or newly created, charter schools. However, the benefits of attending a charter school were found to be consistent across all subgroups, especially among startups.
"We are not suggesting that charter schools unfairly cherry-pick stronger students or highly committed families," Fuller said. "However, parents with more savvy or time seem more likely to seek out stronger schools."
Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently of most state requirements as well as the administration of the Los Angeles School District. In all, 274 charter schools were in operation in LAUSD this fall — more charters than any other school district in the country, writes Kathleen Maclay for UC Berkeley.
Although charter high schools were found to attract stronger students, they did not increase their performance any more than traditional schools. Charter middle schools improved student learning to a greater extent. Researchers discovered that students who transferred from a traditional school to a charter school in the middle school years made the highest gains in math and English language arts.
In addition, the study discovered that startup charters often hire younger teachers with less experience. Although many of those teachers did not have complete credentials at the time the data was collected for the study, it did not seem to effect their ability to increase learning at the elementary and middle school levels.
One concern brought up by researchers is that an increase of start-up or conversion charter schools could increase the existing separation between high and low-achieving students in LAUSD through organizational diversity. They also wonder what educational effects would be shown for students who remain in traditional school settings.