CREDO Study: Charter Schools Leading to Student Gains in Missouri

Aug 2, 2023 |

written by Izzy Rubin

What the Research Says

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University (CREDO) published a national study examining the academic progress of students enrolled in charter schools. Researchers looked at student-level data from the spring of school years 2014-15 to 2018-19 in order to compare charter school students’ learning growth to those at traditional public schools where they would have otherwise attended. Here are a few of the takeaways from the research in St. Louis:

  • Missouri’s charter school students’ gains were in the top 5 states for learning in math and reading nationally. Missouri charter students gained 39 additional days of learning in reading and 56 additional days of learning in math compared to students attending  traditional public schools. These additional days of learning were among the highest in the nation. For math, only New York had larger gains in academic learning than charter schools in Missouri. 
  • Historically underserved students experienced more learning gains in charter schools. Charter learning gains were positive for Black and Latino students during this 4-year period as well as for students eligible for FRPL in both reading and math.
  • Single-site charter schools in Missouri drove the performance advantage of charters, bucking national trends. In other states, Charter School Management Organizations (CMOs), with multiple sites, drove the performance advantage of charters over traditional public schools. In Missouri, charter organizations with one school site are outperforming the larger CMOs.
  • Evidence of charter schools “cherry picking” students was examined and disproven in this study. Nationally, charter schools enrolled students that are disproportionately lower achieving than students in the traditional public school they would have attended.

Why This Matters 

  • Nationally and in Missouri, the CREDO study shows that charter schools are getting better over time. One of the primary hypotheses of the charter public school movement is that stable, nonprofit governance detached from politics would foster continuous improvement over time.  Since CREDO conducted a similar study in 2008, charter schools – as a group – have substantially improved in advancing student learning –evidence that this approach to governance may be better suited to sustainably ensure school systems deliver learning outcomes for children, particularly children from families who traditionally have less political and economic power
  • A common criticism of charter schools is that they encourage the enrollment of certain types of families and students whose assessment scores tend to be higher (“cherry-picking”), thereby inflating metrics used to measure school quality. The study actually found the opposite, providing evidence that refutes the “cherry-picking” narrative. The study matched students with identical data, including demographics, eligibility for program support such as free or reduced-price lunch, special education needs, and same test scores. The only difference between the students was whether they attended charter schools or traditional public schools. 
  • There are nine single-site charter schools in St. Louis. While not all single site schools  are high performing, many are out-performing CMO-managed and traditional public schools.

What We’re Contemplating 

  • Through the Innovative Schools Fellowship (ISF), The Opportunity Trust works with school founders and the local community to design and incubate more single-site charter schools that meet the needs of families, start strong and improve results. Moving students from low-performing schools to high-performing schools, such as strong single-site charters, is a key lever to improving academic achievement across the state.

We encourage you to visit our Missouri Academic Data Explorer to learn more about the schools in your community.

CREDO Study map of State Average Charter School Student Academic Growth, Reading
CREDO Study map showing State Level Average Charter School Student Academic Growth, Math

2023 CREDO Center for Research on Education Outcomes Stanford University Stanford, CA

Authors: Margaret E. Raymond, Ph.D. James L. Woodworth, Ph.D., Lead Analyst- 31 State Study Won Fy Lee, Ph.D., Lead Analyst- CMO Study Sally Bachofer, Ed.M.

Contributors: Meghan E. Cotter Mazzola, M.S. William D. Snow Tzvetelina Sabkova, M.A.

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