A new Mathematica study helps address an important knowledge gap about the effects of charter schools: Over the long term, do these schools improve students’ chances of enrolling in or completing college? The research, conducted for the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, reveals that attending a charter middle school participating in the study did not affect students’ likelihood of enrolling in or completing college. Furthermore, a given school’s success in improving students’ achievement was not related to its success in improving their college enrollment and completion.
This study, led by Kate Place and Phil Gleason, assesses these effects by building upon the National Evaluation of Charter Middle Schools. Students in the 2010 national evaluation entered lotteries to be admitted to more than 30 charter middle schools across the United States. Through random selection, 1,723 lottery winners were offered admission while the remaining 1,150 lottery losers were not. The evaluation compared these two groups of students to assess how charter middle schools affected students’ achievement and, on average, found no effects. Some charter schools, however, were successful in improving students’ achievement, including those in urban areas and those serving economically disadvantaged students.
To understand more about the role that charters play in reforming the education system and serving the nation’s students, the new study obtained data on college going for the students from the prior national evaluation. It examines whether the same group of charter middle schools affected students’ college enrollment and completion and the relationship between each school’s earlier achievement results and these important longer-term outcomes.
The new study’s key findings include the following:
- Being admitted to a charter middle school in the study did not affect college enrollment. On average, 69 percent of lottery winners and lottery losers enrolled in some type of college three to eight years after their expected graduation from high school.
- Charter school admission did not affect students’ degree attainment or chances of remaining enrolled in college. On average, 48 percent of lottery winners and 47 percent of lottery losers had a degree or were still enrolled as of December 2017.
- The success of an individual charter middle school in improving college outcomes was not related to its success in improving middle school achievement. The study schools that improved middle school achievement were not consistently more successful than others in boosting college enrollment and completion. This could be because other factors—such as student experiences in high school—are more important than middle school achievement in determining long-term outcomes.
“The study’s focus on college outcomes is important because charter schools ultimately aim to improve students’ educational trajectories and career success,” said study director Phil Gleason. “Our results show just how challenging it can be to achieve these goals, even for charter schools that improved students’ middle school achievement.”
Read more about Mathematica’s portfolio of research in school choice and charters.