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Home > Ask an Expert > How do charter schools compare to traditional public schools in student performance?

Jim Hull, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Public Education

How do charter schools compare to traditional public schools in student performance?

A: On average, nationally, students in 17 percent of charter schools performed significantly better than if they had attended their neighborhood traditional public school.

On the flip side, students in 37 percent of charter schools performed significantly worse, and students in the remaining 46 percent of charter schools did not perform significantly better or worse than if they had attended their neighborhood traditional public school. However, research also shows that students in charter high schools score higher on college entrance exams (e.g., the SAT or ACT) and are more likely to graduate high school and attend college than similar students in traditional public schools.

Yet the effectiveness of charter schools varies greatly from state to state. Why charter schools are more effective in some states and not in others is not definitive, but there are a few state policies that appear to impact charter school effectiveness. For one, allowing multiple authorizing agencies has a negative impact on charter school effectiveness. This might mean that some charter schools shop around for authorizers that require the least accountability. The other state policy that impacts charter school effectiveness is whether the state limits the number of charter schools with a cap. Research shows that states with a cap realize significantly lower academic growth for their charter schools than states without a cap. However, there are states wtih caps whose charter schools are more effective than charter schools in states without caps. So more research needs to be done to determine the full extent state policies have on charter school achievement.

Overall, the majority of charter schools do no better or worse than traditional public schools. To learn more about what research says about charter schools check out the Center’s Charter Schools: Finding Out the Facts.