CREDO Reveals Successful Charters' Secret Sauce

Paul E. Peterson
Year of publication: 
Education Next

Success Academy is a big-time success story, as Charles Sahm makes clear (“What Explains Success at Success Academy?” features, Summer 2015). But what are the general lessons to be learned from the many case studies of successful chartering? Does it take the exceptional leadership of Success Academies’ Eva Moskowitz? Are school uniforms and a “no excuses” ethos the decisive ingredients (KIPP schools)? Are longer school days and an extended school year critical? Is data-based instruction the solution (Achievement First)? How important is a demanding academic curriculum (BASIS schools)? Are class-integrated schools the key (Rhode Island)? Or is personalized instruction the crucial element (Carpe Diem and Summit Schools)? Or is the one essential ingredient the capacity to recruit high-quality teachers and administrators (all of the schools above)?

That last thought came to mind upon reading the latest study on urban charter schools from CREDO (Center for Research on Education Outcomes), which tells us that students in charter schools in 41 metropolitan areas are, on average, outperforming the district-run schools that charter students would otherwise have attended by about “40 days of additional learning per year in math [0.055] and 28 additional days of learning per year in reading [0.039].” (Numbers indicate the average difference in the performance of charter and district students in standard deviations.)

But the overall findings, encouraging as they are, struck me as less telling than the city-by-city comparisons. The cities with the highest-performing charters in math are, in order, Boston (0.324), Newark (0.233), Bay Area [San Francisco] (0.190), New York City (0.145), District of Columbia (0.134), Memphis (0.135), New Orleans (0.119), Milwaukee (0.091), Detroit (0.090),and Southern California [Los Angeles area] (0.080).

Charter students in the top seven of these areas are gaining at least 80 days more of math learning each year, and, in Boston, students are gaining an extra year!