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Policy Brief: The Evidence on Charter Schools and Test Scores


December 2011

Charter schools are among the most controversial issues in education today, with much of the debate focused on whether they produce better testing results than comparable regular public schools. Too often, these

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discussions either rely on a tiny handful of studies, or on raw, cross-sectional testing results, which are not valid measures of school effects.

This policy brief provides an accessible review of the research on charter schools’ testing effects, how their varying impacts might be explained and what this evidence suggests about the ongoing proliferation of these schools.

Download the policy brief (PDF)

Here is the abstract:

The public debate about the success and expansion of charter schools often seems to gravitate toward a tiny handful of empirical studies, when there is, in fact, a relatively well-developed literature focused on whether these schools generate larger testing gains among their students relative to their counterparts in comparable regular public schools. This brief reviews this body of evidence, with a focus on high-quality state- and district-level analyses that address, directly or indirectly, three questions:

  1. Do charter schools produce larger testing gains overall?
  2. What policies and practices seem to be associated with better performance?
  3. Can charter schools expand successfully within the same location?

The available research suggests that charter schools’ effects on test score gains vary by location, school/student

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identifying the policies, practices and other characteristics that help explain the wide variation in their results.

Download the policy brief (PDF)

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