A new report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes indicates that the success of charter schools can be determined within the first three years. Charter schools that are well-managed, high-performing schools from the start are likely to remain so, the report says. And those with problems in their first year aren’t apt to change, it says.
“This report’s findings challenge the conventional wisdom that a young, under-performing school will improve if given time," said Margaret Raymond, executive director of the organization and the study's lead author, in a press release. "Our research shows that if you start wobbly, chances are you’ll stay wobbly."
Researchers looked at the growth in performance of thousands of charter schools in multiple states over a five-year cycle starting with their launch dates. And they examined the replication abilities of charter schools that grew into multiple school organizations. According to the report, schools are of varying quality and the level of quality typically remains constant.
The report also showed that low-performing charter schools, like traditional public schools, are more likely to see gains in the elementary grades. The chance of turning around middle and high schools is less likely.
The report raises real concerns about the wisdom of using billions in federal education money under No Child Left Behind to “fix” troubled schools. Charters are often viewed as solutions rather than alternatives to problematic traditional public schools, and there is a tendency to give failing charters too much time to reverse course.
The report suggests that it is more effective to expand the capacity of high-performing schools to serve more students.
The report doesn’t make a case in support of charter schools over traditional public schools. But it does make the case for investing more funding in great schools, replicating them where possible, and closing low-performing schools sooner rather than later.