Charter versus Public Schools—Who Shows Better Academic Success?

Posted by Tahlea Jankoski on December 16, 2016




Are charter schools leading education achievement with greater results or do public schools rise above the growing opportunity for alternative education? The debate has gone for two decades as the proponents of charter schools claim that its structure is academically superior to public schools. Yet, proponents of public schools state that charter schools have the same academic outcomes as traditional schools.


Academic accolades—does it add up?

Research studies have taken place to give a clearer perspective on this topic and find that in many ways charter schools may actually outperform public schools, and in other ways they perform equally.  Academic performance is largely dependent on the location of the charter school. 

A study published by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO, compare charter and public schools in 41 different urban areas to find that overall students did perform better in charter schools when compared to traditional public schools with accelerated learning in math and reading. 

A main factor for this study was that performance varied by location. Many charter schools were first created in districts where traditional public schools had lower academic performance. Since charter schools were created to improve education opportunities, it is a positive indication that charter schools are meeting the need for better academic achievement in these areas.

In New Orleans, for example, 92.4 percent of students are in charter schools where they are experiencing greater education outcomes. With higher graduation rates and better ACT scores, as well as greater college enrollment, major improvements in student education are helping New Orleans to be a fast-improving city.

The CREDO study also found that Washington, D.C. has seen huge improvements in student education with 45 percent attending charter schools. 

What defines a charter school?

Charter schools were developed in response to a lack of public schools where students could excel. Mostly set in urban areas, charter schools were suppose to be schools of innovation and serve as a research tool and guide for the traditional K-12 schools. In fall 1992, the first charter school was developed in rural Minnesota. This school's hope was to be able to "spur innovation in education, free from existing structures." The success of the school and the freedom they had financially and legally propelled the charter school movement throughout the 90's and into the new millennium. 

The results are mixed reviews

As charter schools continue to grow in popularity, determining if they outperform public schools and meet the learning goals of students will continue to be a hot topic of conversation among educators and parents alike. Many that argue for the charter school movement claim that they improve academia with non-traditional practices, breaks up school board monopolies while expanding school choice, and better prepare students for college, while their opponents say it is too lenient with rules and regulations, it further feeds in the re-segregation of schools, and that the public school system has higher graduation rates among students that stay within the traditional setting. Overall, the research shows mixed reviews and it is difficult to determine if charter schools truly outperform public schools. 


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