OPPONENTS OF charter schools are going to have to come up with a new excuse: They can't claim any longer that these non-traditional public schools don't succeed. A rigorous new study of charter schools in New York City demolishes the argument that charter schools outperform traditional public schools only because they get the "best students." This evidence should spur states to change policies that inhibit charter-school growth. It also should cause traditional schools to emulate practices that produce these remarkable results.
The study, led by Stanford University economics professor Caroline M. Hoxby, compared the progress of students who won a lottery to enroll in a charter school against those who lost and ended up in traditional schools. The study found that charter school students scored higher on state math and reading tests. The longer they stayed in charters, the likelier they were to earn New York state's Regents diploma for high-achieving students.
Most stunning was the impact that the charters had on shrinking the achievement gap between minority and white students. "On average," the study found, "a student who attended a charter school for all of grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86 percent of the 'Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap' in math and 66 percent of the achievement gap in English." Researchers were careful not to draw conclusions, but they highlighted a correlation to practices such as a longer school day, performance pay for teachers, more time spent on English and effective discipline policies.
Nearly all of the city's 78 charters participated (although the elementary school operated by the United Federation of Teachers opted out), so no one can argue that the results are an anomaly of a few, select schools. Indeed, the results show the possibilities for success in urban education when leaders welcome change and innovation. Chancellor Joel Klein encouraged charters to flourish, providing start-up assistance and offering space in public buildings, even as the teachers unions did their best to put up roadblocks, lobbying the state legislature to limit the number and funding of charter schools.
Now the facts are in. The desperation of poor parents whose children are stuck on waiting lists for charter schools is well-founded. And every time the union scores another lobbying success in Albany -- or Annapolis, Richmond or Washington, D.C. -- to hold charters back, more poor children will pay a price.