Literature Review: Research Comparing Charter Schools and Traditional Public Schools

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Abstract

During the 2008-09 school year, over 5,000 charter schools operated in 40 states and Washington, D.C. and were attended by over 1.5 million students, or about three percent of the nation's public school students. Although the first U.S. charter schools opened in 1992, debate continues over whether they provide students with a better education than traditional public schools. This Literature Review summarizes studies that compared the achievement of students attending charter and traditional public schools and found mixed results. Most studies have found that charter schools produce achievement gains that are about the same or lower than those found in traditional public schools, although a few studies have concluded that charter schools have a positive effect on student achievement. These inconsistent findings have led some researchers to conclude that the rapid growth of the charter school movement has significantly outpaced the evidence supporting its impact on student achievement. Because there is such wide variation from state to state in charter schools' mission, funding, student populations, size, grade level coverage, and independence from regulations and teacher contracts, there may never be a single definitive study that determines if charter or traditional public schools provide students with better learning opportunities. In addition to reviewing studies conducted on overall charter school performance, this report summarizes research that examined the following issues: student achievement at new versus more established charter schools; student achievement at conversion versus start-up charter schools; student mobility at charter schools; charter school teacher attrition rates and qualifications; demographic characteristics of students attending charter schools; extent of segregation in charter schools; and the impact of charter school competition on the achievement of students remaining in traditional public schools. Finally, information on charter schools operating within the state of Florida and in Miami-Dade County is provided.

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Authors

  • Christie Blazer

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