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Study questions charter school performance

Education

Charter schools are steadily gaining attention and popularity as successful options to traditional public schools. Many people feel they provide a private school education without the hefty price tag. But a recent study released in the Peabody Journal of Education cast doubt on that assumption, calling into question charter schools’ perceived advantage. 

In the report, William Jeynes, professor of education at California State University-Long Beach, found that, across the board, charter school students did not perform better than their traditional public school contemporaries. Despite controls for race, gender and socioeconomic status, both groups of students had an educational disadvantage of approximately one year when compared to students from private religious schools.  

Jeynes compiled the report using meta-analysis—a method integrating massive amounts of data from multiple studies. Jeynes’ analysis covered 90 different studies and included data on millions of students— the first of it’s kind to compare public, charter and private religious schools. 

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The results came as a surprise to many, including Jeynes. 

“I really expected public charter school students to outperform pupils in traditional public schools,” he said in a statement after presenting the data to the faculty at Notre Dame University. “However, in any meta-analysis when the numbers come out a certain way, you have to reach a decision. Either you change or the numbers change, and since the numbers won’t change, you need to humble yourself enough to go with the facts.”

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools declined to comment on Jeynes’ findings until they could thoroughly analyze the research, but spokesman David Richey was adamant that charter schools have made marked advances. 

“There has been a strong, upward trend in public charter school performance,” he said. “Numerous research studies released in the last few years have shown that public charter school students are performing better than those in traditional schools—particularly historically disadvantaged student populations. We believe that this trend will continue as the public charter sector matures and learns how to replicate success, while states continue to strengthen their public charter school laws.” 

Jeynes did find the results for charter schools varied from city to city and state to state. Those with laws friendly to charter schools had the greatest success.

“You do find that certain states, and Arizona would be in the lead, have charter schools that perform better,” Jeynes told me. He speculated that Arizona’s more faith-friendly environment allowed charter schools to imitate the strengths of private schools.

That strength lies in the culture and environment religious schools foster.  

“In the vast majority of Christian schools, there is an understanding that the Bible is central and self-discipline is valued,” Jeynes said. “With that moral fabric and (the belief) that God doesn’t make junk, students do better in school.”  

Jeynes doesn’t want to disparage charter schools, but hopes his findings encourage society to value and implement the advances made by religious schools: “I think it’s time schools of faith have a seat at the table and people appreciate them.”

Read WORLD's coverage of Jeynes' initial study findings.

Stephanie Perrault
Stephanie Perrault

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