To the dismay of some members of the Jefferson County Public School board, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has voiced his support for bringing charter schools to Louisville. An amended version of HB520 would even allow the mayor’s office to serve as an authorizer. Both moves prompted one school board member to call Mayor Fischer’s position “a betrayal of JCPS and the 101,000 students that are part of the district.”
There is at least one glaring problem with this rhetoric. The data is clear, urban charter schools work.
In 2015, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, released a detailed Urban Charter School Study which analyzed 41 urban areas in 22 states. The study had six important findings:
Urban charter schools provide higher levels of annual growth in math and reading than their traditional public school peers.
It was twice as likely that a regions charter schools would outperform traditional public schools than that it would underperformed traditional public schools.
Black, Hispanic, low-income, and special education students experience learning gains in charter schools by “significant amounts” in both math and reading.
Positive results continued to increase over the period of study. (The longer a student is in a charter school, the more their growth rate increases)
Compared to the charter school landscape as a whole, urban charters have improved results.
Despite overall positive impacts, there are communities where charter schools lag in learning gains, but this is not common.
The study is quite clear that urban charter schools are producing better results than their traditional public school peers. Like anything, there are exceptions to this, but on the whole urban charters are succeeding, and especially so with black, hispanic, low-income, and special education students. While a study like this can not control for some factors, the conclusions are powerful.
Several more controlled studies have reached similar findings. A study conducted by four MIT and Harvard University professors and published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, found that Boston charter schools produced huge gains in test scores. The gains were large enough to reduce the test score gap between white and black middle school students by two-thirds.
A study published in the Journal of Labor Economics (University of Chicago Press) found that Boston charter schools do a better job at preparing students for college.
Charter schools in Boston have achieved considerable success that could provide confidence for Louisville. Jefferson County Public Schools have a low-income rate of 59% compared to 78% in Boston’s Public Schools. Black students make up 37% of JCPS and 35% of BPS, while Hispanic students are only 8% of JCPS and 40% of BPS. As noted by the CREDO study, many urban environments with similar demographics have achieved measurable success.
So, has Mayor Fischer lost his mind or does he just understand data?
I suspect the latter. One can justifiably be dubious of the potential of suburban and rural charter schools. Outcomes for them have not always been as positive. This is not the case for urban charter schools. Multiple studies have shown their effectiveness and although not every single charter school will produce positive results, it is highly likely that students in Louisville, especially minority and low-income students, will experience better results in charter schools.