Study: High-Performing Charter School Improves Student Lives

New research reveals that that high-performing charter schools may significantly improve human capital and reduce certain risky behaviors among the poor. Researchers estimated the effects of high-performing charter schools on human capital, risky behaviors, and health outcomes using survey data from the Promise Academy in the Harlem Children's Zone.

Students at the Promise Academy in Harlem performed better than their peers in and outside the classroom, with lower rates of incarceration and teen pregnancy, writes Brenda Cronin of The Wall Street Journal.

Harvard's Roland G. Fryer, Jr. and Princeton's Will Dobbie tracked more than 400 sixth-grade students who won spots at the Promise Academy, a charter school in Harlem, through lotteries in 2005 and 2006.

The economists tapped data for their paper, The Medium-Term Impacts of High-Achieving Charter Schools on Non-Test Score Outcomes, from the Harlem Children's Zone, the New York City Department of Education and the National Student Clearinghouse.

Six years after the random admissions lottery, youth offered admission to the Promise Academy middle school scored 0.283 standard deviations higher on a nationally-normed math achievement test and are 14.1 percentage points more likely to enroll in college, according to the research.

Admitted females are 12.1 percentage points less likely to be pregnant in their teens, and males are 4.3 percentage points less likely to be incarcerated. The researchers find little impact of the Promise Academy on self-reported health.

The researchers followed the students throughout high school and compared survey results with non-lottery winners. They found strikingly improved "human capital" and diminished "risky behaviors" among lottery winners — but note that this particular school, and its supportive environment, may not be representative of other high-performing charter schools.

For at-risk neighborhood students, the Promise Academy in New York City, offers a particularly intensive program. The school is located in the Harlem Children's Zone, an area that offers a host of programs to promote social well-being and advancement to low-income families.

More than 8,000 youth and 5,000 adults benefit from HCZ programs each year.

Students at the Promise Academy have longer school days and school years than their counterparts elsewhere. They also have access to after-school tutoring and weekend classes for remedial help in math and English.

Teachers at the school are evaluated and receive incentives to improve performance. The authors note that the school employs "extensive data-driven monitoring to track student progress and differentiate instruction, with students who have not met the required benchmarks receiving small-group tutoring."

Surveys completed by the students — who were paid between $40 and $200 to participate — show that teenage girls who won the school lottery were 12.1 percentage points less likely to be pregnant; boys who won the lottery to Promise Academy were 4.3 percentage points less likely to be in prison or jail than counterparts who didn't land spots in the school.

Lottery winners scored higher on math and reading exams and were more likely to take and pass exams in courses such as chemistry and geometry.

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