Charter School Performance: Indiana & New Jersey

As we prepare for upcoming legislative sessions throughout the nation, policymakers throughout the country need to be made aware of the strong gains public charter schools are making in states like Indiana and New Jersey. With the many misperceptions about whether charter schools are an adequate alternative choice for parents, we at StudentsFirst are heartened that the newest Stanford University report credibly illustrates that Indiana and New Jersey are setting the bar for accountable, high-performing charters schools that are improving students achievement.

The report from Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes on the performance of Indiana's charter schools shows that, compared with a control group of students attending traditional public schools, students attending public charter schools outperform their peers in math and reading. Furthermore, charter school students in Indianapolis are achieving greater learning gains than charter school students across the rest of the state.

The study reports the findings across a number of variables, including school level, school location, growth period, grade level, race, charter management organization, and more. It found that the charter school students received an equivalent of one and a half more months of learning gains in reading and math than their traditional public school counterparts over the course of the year; in Indianapolis, charter schools produced approximately 2 months more in learning for reading and math.

Another important finding of the study is the improvement that African-American students made: while persistent achievement gaps remain in both traditional and charter public schools, African-American charter school students performed markedly better in both reading and math than their traditional public school counterparts.

These findings are aligned with the results found in a recent report from the same research center (CREDO) that looked at the performance of students attending public charter schools in New Jersey. That particular study also found that charter school students gained an additional three months of learning in math, and two additional months of learning in reading compared to traditional public school students. Even more encouraging, charter students in Newark gained seven and a half months more learning in reading per year and nine months more learning in math per year.

We applaud the progress public charter schools in these states are making. These results are a testament to the innovation and quality of instruction that public charter schools provide to their students. More importantly, however, the study demonstrates further evidence of what is possible in terms of increasing student learning. The results achieved by the charter schools in this study can be achieved by traditional public schools as well - there is no reason to accept any excuse otherwise. Policymakers would be wise to examine the successes being made, particularly in Indianapolis and Newark, and determine what mix of autonomy, innovation, and accountability is leading to better results for kids. Then they should look to create those same conditions for all public schools. At the same time, leaders in New Jersey and Indiana should not remain satisfied with the results of their current charter sector. Both states can further strengthen their accountability systems and raise the bar even higher.

While more work remains, Indiana and New Jersey parents are better served with the ability to choose from these high quality schools. In 2013, we will continue to fight everyday to put in place state policies centered on student interests. By creating an environment where great public schools like the high performing charter schools in Indiana and New Jersey are able to grow, thrive, and replicate, states can ensure that every family has the option to attend a high performing, high quality public school.