Making Sense of Charter Schools
Evidence from California
The debate over charter schools often appears to be driven by theory and ideology, with little information on how the reform itself is affecting students. This occasional paper adds clarity to the debate by consolidating the results from the RAND Corporation’s comprehensive assessment of charter schools. A key feature of this assessment has been the use of individual student-level data to track students from school to school over time and to measure their test scores in traditional and charter schools. The analysis dispels many of the arguments from charter proponents or critics. The results show that test scores for charter school students are keeping pace with comparable students in traditional public schools. Similarly, minority students are performing no better in charter than in traditional classrooms, so charters are not affecting the achievement gap for these students. Charter proponents have also expected that competition from charters would improve the performance of traditional public schools, but the evidence does not support this contention. On a more positive note, charter schools have achieved comparable test score results with fewer public resources and have emphasized non-core subjects more than have traditional schools. In addition, the evidence shows that charter schools have not created “white enclaves” or “skimmed” high-quality students from traditional public schools, as critics feared. Finally, we discovered that school level operations varied considerably between charter and traditional schools, but these operational differences had little effect on student achievement.
- Copyright: RAND Corporation
- Availability: Web-Only
- Paperback Pages: 8
- Document Number: OP-157-EDU
- Year: 2006
- Series: Occasional Papers
The research described in this report was conducted within RAND Education.
This report is part of the RAND Corporation occasional paper series. RAND occasional papers may include an informed perspective on a timely policy issue, a discussion of new research methodologies, essays, a paper presented at a conference, or a summary of work in progress. All RAND occasional papers undergo rigorous peer review to help ensure that they meet high standards for research quality and objectivity.
Permission is given to duplicate this electronic document for personal use only, as long as it is unaltered and complete. Copies may not be duplicated for commercial purposes. Unauthorized posting of RAND PDFs to a non-RAND Web site is prohibited. RAND PDFs are protected under copyright law. For information on reprint and linking permissions, please visit the RAND Permissions page.
The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.