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The report analyzes an array of issues pertaining to student achievement, governance, operation, and accessibility of charter schools in California. Four specific research questions are investigated: (1) Is student achievement higher in charter schools than in conventional public schools? (2) What oversight and support do the chartering authorities provide? (3) How do charter schools differ from their conventional public school counterparts in terms of their operation, including finances, academic achievement, and staffing? (4) What population of students attend charter schools? One main finding is that there is no single charter school model-charter schools are not a homogeneous group and vary across many important dimensions. Regarding student achievement, results are mixed. Students in charter schools generally have comparable or slightly lower test scores than students in conventional public schools, but there is variation among the types of charter schools. With respect to governance, only a small proportion of chartering authorities are collecting accountability information such as student grades, promotion rates, and dropout rates. A major finding from examining the operation of charter schools suggests that these schools, particularly newly created charter schools, receive fewer public resources per student because of their lack of participation in categorical programs. Finally, in evaluating accessibility, we compare the average ethnic/racial makeup of charter and conventional schools within the same district. We find that charter students are more likely to be black and less likely to be Hispanic or Asian, but no more likely to be white.

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The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education for the California Legislature Analyst's Office.

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