education; policy; charter school; performance; test scores
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In the last few decades, there has been considerable debate over whether or not charter schools are beneficial to the American education system. Charter schools are given government funding, but they have independence from the established educational system. Charter school supporters argue that increased autonomy and innovation in teaching, as well as competition between schools, improves the quality of education. Opponents of charter schools argue that charter schools are not more effective than public schools. However, the research is mixed: some studies suggest charter schools perform better, some suggest they perform similarly, and some suggest that they perform worse than traditional public schools. There are many underlying factors surrounding charter schools that interfere with the research being done, such as variation in teaching methods, location, and selection of students. It is necessary to determine whether or not charter schools are effective in order to learn from the successes and failures of charter school approaches.
In this paper, I examine the performance of 164 elementary and 60 middle schools in RI to see if, when controlling for relevant factors, charter schools improve student outcomes. In this sample, 19 were charter schools. All student data was collected from the RI Department of Education’s Infoworks website, and included the percent of students meeting proficiency criteria on standardized tests, attendance rates, chronic absenteeism rates, and student stability and mobility. I also take into account school level, racial and ethnic diversity, percent of students eligible for free and reduced lunch, percent of students eligible for ESL (English as a second language) services, and percent of students eligible for Individualized Learning Programs. There were small (6-10 percentage point) differences in the percent proficient in charter schools versus non-charters. My data suggests that in Rhode Island, charter schools perform significantly better than public schools in 4th grade Math, Science, and ELA assessments, and they perform the same or slightly worse (but not significantly) in 8th grade. More research in this area can contribute to a better understanding of charter school performance in Rhode Island, and potentially, nationwide.