School Choice

Major Win For School Choice: Charter Students Smarter, Earn More

Market incentives and individual choice are the best tools for fixing American education.


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A just-released study from the University of Arkansas provides a substantial endorsement of charter school education. U.S. students who spent several years in charter schools were found to score significantly better on tests and make more money than their counterparts in traditional K-12 public schools, when adjusted for funding discrepancies.

Researchers examined data from 21 different states. While the results varied, charter schools were found to be more productive—and generate a higher return on investment—than traditional public schools (TPS). On average, charter school students scored so much better on assessments that spending money on charters was roughly 40 percent more efficient than spending money on TPS. According to the study:

Comparing [National Assessment of Education Progress] achievement obtained in public charter schools versus TPS for 21 states and DC, we find the public charter school sector delivers a weighted average of an additional 17 NAEP points per $1000 invested in math, representing a productivity advantage of 40% for charters; In reading, the public charter sector delivers an additional 16 NAEP points per $1000 invested, representing a productivity advantage of 41% for charters.

… The analyses we present in this report indicate that charter schools are more productive than TPS, either because they produce higher student gains at a lower cost or because they produce similar or only slightly lower student outcomes at a significantly lower cost. 

The results were more pronounced among students who had spent significant time in charter schools. A student who attended a charter for just a year typically enjoyed only a slightly more productive educational experience, whereas students who spent six years in charters enjoyed a higher return on investment.

The Department of Education Reform at UA published the study. (The Walton Family Foundation, which supports school choice, funded the study. The authors claim that the foundation played no other role in developing the study.)

The study may not persuade charter school skeptics, but it's still a powerful piece of ammunition for libertarians trying to make the case that market incentives and individual choice are the best tools for fixing American education.

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  1. Can we just get rid of the Department of Education already?

  2. Isn’t Reason better than equating correlation with causation? Wasn’t this addressed in Freakonomics- that the fact that the parents WANT their kids to go to a better/different school means their parents are more involved which could account for any difference? In fact, didn’t that show students who attempted to get into charter schools, but failed to win the lottery, fared as well as those who were accepted?

    1. Re: Spencer,

      Wasn’t this addressed in Freakonomics- that the fact that the parents WANT their kids to go to a better/different school means their parents are more involved which could account for any difference?

      Wouldn’t that also mean that whatever government and teacher unions do, parents simply do not see any additional benefit in getting more involved in the education of their kids when it is the government which compels them to send their children to kiddie prison?

      Maybe the whole problem stems from the notion that the children belong to the State. Just sayin’.

      1. That doesn’t follow. I think the notion that children belong to the state is one of the closest things to evil there is; however, that doesn’t have any impact here. (unless you’re saying it’s parents who think their own children belong to the state, but I think those are harder to come by that statists who think others’ children belong to them.)

        It’s just that charter schools aren’t a panacea. Parents who care about their children might be- and any system that allows parents to care for and about their children is good by me.

        1. Re: Spencer,

          That doesn’t follow.

          What do you mean it doesn’t follow? It’s a conclusion based on comparative value. If parents feel there’s added value in their involvement in their children’s education because of the scarcity of charter schools, then it is clear that the marginal value of traditional public schools is much lower. Be reminded that the scarcity of a good is not a function of the actual number of it available but of the DEMAND for it. So it really doesn’t matter if charter schools are better than traditional public schools or not; the fact that people place a HIGHER VALUE in them is what’s important in the end.

          And I am positing an explanation why public schools have such a lower marginal value, and that is because of the mandatory nature of education in the U.S. If you’re mandated to use a service, you will tend to value it less than something you had to work for. When it comes to charter schools, parents at least believe they get more bang for the buck.

          1. Got it! Yes, making something mandatory makes it less valued. It makes it, actually, despised. Like forcing someone to read a book makes them hate it, vs letting them read something they like will foster a love for reading… potentially. Some people are just dumb and will fail no matter what.

    2. Who cares?

      Let’s say the charters provide the exact same quality of education. They are doing it for less.

      1. When making an argument, “exact same for less”- backed up with fact and data- works a lot better than “kids who go here get smarter and make more money”- backed up with anecdotes.

        Accuracy matters. Being right matters. WHY you’re right matters.

        1. Public school teachers are claiming charters are substandard. Why? So they can continue to get paid more than they are worth in the free market, obtain tenure so they can slack off and not worry about getting fired, work a 7 hour work day with 3 months off in the summer. All while providing abysmal results.

          Do you really need a study to know that you get more value through competition?

          Of the $4k I pay in property tax every year, $2200 goes to this bullshit, and I don’t have kids.

          1. That’s a different issue altogether. I don’t think people without kids should pay into the system at all- and I doubt I’m alone here on that. Systems should be paid for through fees for use. After all, everyone knows money doesn’t solve the problem.

            1. I don’t disagree with your point. There may, in fact, be other variables at play here.

              My point is, I don’t need a study to know that the private sector, as a whole, will provide more value than the government.

            2. But they’re society’s kids, and you benefit from them being educated, or some bullshit.

    3. Is that true? Students who didn’t get in, but wanted to, fared as well?

      Or, they did better also?

      1. And, Spencer…..if the parents who are involved and care about their kids education are convinced charters are better and therefore want them, why would a State not say ‘yeah, let’s give them what they want. It is their money after all.’

        It is more likely the parents who wanted their kids in charter schools did a number of other things to make up for what their kids didn’t get in TPS. In other words, they did charter like activities. Which suggests charter like actions are important. Therefore, more charter schools please.

  3. A study showing what everybody already knew. Competition improves performance. No shit!

    We need to study why the public school teachers hate the chilrenz next.

    1. My son worked as a teacher for awhile. He said, in his opinion, one in ten is a good teacher and cares about the kids, 6 in ten are basically brain dead, and three of the ten are evil people who hate children and do what they can to make people miserable.

      1. Pretty much consistent with my own experience and my experience raising three boys.

        1. My dad was a public school teacher, so I grew up around them. It’s a cush job. Any teacher who tells you otherwise, is full of shit.

          People, in general, always want more. No different for them. They work for the government. They ask the government for more. The government isn’t spending their own money, they are spending somebody else’s. Why would they say no?

          Bottom line is, they get payed (including perks) significantly more than they would in the private sector, at best with equal results, at worst with worse results.

          Government can provide shit. The ONLY difference between the stuff government provides and the stuff the private sector provides is efficiency. Efficiency comes from profit motive. Without it, you get shit for value.

          1. This is obviously true as private school teachers are paid less than public school teachers. And, the only reason private school teachers are paid as much as they are is because public school salaries jack up the costs.

      2. “three of the ten are evil people who hate children and do what they can to make people miserable.”

        Recently I overheard a public school teacher bitching about the summer school students she had to teach, basically acting like a put-upon diva (because she didn’t get to spend her whole summer vacationing) while proclaiming that these kids were worthless and would never amount to anything. I am not one to judge strangers, but she truly sounded evil.

  4. I saw a thing a while ago that if you compare charter school students to all public school students, the charter students do better, but if you compare charter students to public school students that applied to a charter but weren’t selected in the enrollment lottery, the advantage disappears.

    So the question is, are the charter schools actually better, or is it just that since parents actually have to make an effort to get their kids into one, they just correlate with parents more involved in their children’s upbringing and that’s what actually leads to the better outcomes?

    1. the advantage disappears.

      Fine. Let’s say I give you that. Let’s say the quality of the education received is identical.

      Why would you pay MORE for the same service?

      1. I’m not saying charters are bad. But why should we act like the slighty less government school is the solution to education problems if the real message should be that parents are the actual solution?

        1. No, the solution is to get the government out of it entirely.

          There is absolutely ZERO incentive to operate a government program efficiently. NONE! In fact, when you fuck up, the government throws MORE money at you.

  5. Charter schools like private schools pick and choose who they accept. Of course they are going to pick and choose students who they feel will do better, because it makes their schools look better.

    Traditional public schools have to take all comers, from learning disabled, those with mental illness, those who live in circumstances that it makes it impossible for them to thrive in school, and so on and so forth.

    1. This is false in two ways. Most charter schools do not get to pick and choose who they accept. And some public schools do.

      1. Bullshit. Parents select charters and charters select students, often by not allowing special ed students at all (they whine that it’s too expensive, which is true, but it’s a fucking federal mandate, so the public schools get the speds pushed onto them).

        Charters are an anti-libertarian scam.

  6. Selection bias. Failing Stats 101 FTL

  7. In the 60’s I taught science in a private school in New Orleans for $440/month. 2 years later, I quit and started teaching science at Capdau Jr. High public school for $650/month.

    I lasted 2 weeks; it was awful in many respects, but the crisis, was on a Friday when 2 boys were knife-fighting, and another teacher and I separated them and brought them to the principal.

    On Monday, when I entered the classroom and found the instigator of the fight sitting in my class, I asked him WHY ARE YOU HERE? He said “dey gave me anudder chance”. I went to the principal’s office and said, “I QUIT”

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