According to Providence Journal education writer Linda Borg, students at Blackstone Valley Prep charter schools perform so much better than children with the same demographic mix in public schools that it’s as if they were in school for an additional 109 days for math and 97 days for English. For the Achievement First charter schools, the margin is 120 days for math and 57 days for English.
The first point to emphasize is that these results are adjusted so as to be comparing students to their actual peers. That is, the idea that students in some areas of the state just can’t learn as well, given other factors in their lives, is generally false. Of course, the study authors can’t correct for things like neglectful parents, who are probably less likely to seek charter school enrollment in the first place, but that argues more for making it easier for parents to be drawn into involvement, as by empowering them with decision authority of their children’s education.
Of particular interest (beyond my quick skim of the study) is the difference among charter schools. Across the country charter school management organizations (CMOs) do significantly better than similar district schools, with about 17 extra days’ worth of learning in both math and reading. CMOs are charter networks in which the organization oversees the operations of the schools is the same organization that holds (and is responsible for) the charter. Both Blackstone and Achievement First are CMOs.
In contrast, vendor operated schools (VOSs), which are contractors hired by the charter holders to run the schools, don’t do as well as CMOs in reading and actually do slightly worse than district schools in math.
Particularly intriguing, though, is that hybrid charters, which combine both models, do far better, with students performing at a level of about 51 extra days in math and 46 extra days in reading. Of course, we must note that fewer than 1% of charters fall in this category, so unique circumstances may skew the results. One can well imagine, for example, that the Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS) are very much mission driven, given circumstances in the city that they serve.
The key point, though, is that incentives, and the level of investment of management and teachers seems to be critical. The farther from direct, immediate accountability charters get, the less benefit they provide. This jibes with the assessment of those of us who support school reform that public schools core problem is that there are no organizational consequences for poor results. One might speculate, too, that one reason Blackstone Valley and Achievement First do so well, even among charter schools, is that they are under constant threat of being undermined at the State House.