The evidence is clear that charter schools increase academic performance among students they serve. Some wonder, though, about charter schools’ impact on nearby public schools. Is it possible that charters harm their traditional district counterparts?
A new study from Temple University answers this question with an emphatic “no.”
Dr. Sarah Cordes analyzed public and charter school data from 1996 to 2010 in New York City to examine what happens when traditional schools share space with charter schools. Per Cordes, students in New York’s traditional schools reap academic benefits when a new charter school arrives in the same building.
As in other cities, underused public schools in New York City co-locate their academic facilities with charters. Despite the rhetoric surrounding charter school policy, “Results show that co-location may actually be a good policy for both charter and public schools,” said Cordes, the study’s author. “While charter schools benefit from the relationship financially, public school students appear to benefit from improved performance and higher per pupil expenditures.”
Co-located schools saw significant improvements in academic achievement, safety, morale, and cleanliness. While co-located public schools improved the most, simply being close to a charter school increased academic and financial success for public schools. Schools that were within a mile of a charter school saw improved academic achievement.
While opponents of educational choice wrongly argue that charter schools only help the well-to-do, Cordes found that improvements in academic achievement were just as pronounced among low-income students and students with disabilities.
Similarly, a 2015 study from Stanford University demonstrated that charter schools were especially effective at increasing growth among low-income, minority, and English language learning students. Other researchers from Harvard and MIT analyzed charter schools’ performance and concluded that “the charter school effects reported here are therefore large enough to reduce the black-white reading gap in middle school by two-thirds.”
Dozens of empirical studies have documented the positive effects of school choice programs on public schools. But Cordes’ contribution shows positive contributions made by charter schools as well. All of this underscores a critical element of educational choice: Far from a zero-sum game, choice benefits students, families, and taxpayers across the board.
Photo: Science and Education Research Center, Temple University (Megan Miller/Creative Commons)