Expansive study shows charter schools fare no better than public campuses

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LONG BEACH, Calif. — Parents who opt for public charter schools in an effort to improve their children's education may want to reconsider after an in-depth study reveals there is virtually no difference in the academic achievement of public and charter schools.

The study also found that private school students excelled well beyond those in public and charter schools.

"I really expected going in that faith-based schools, Christian schools, would do the best, even when you controlled for such things as socio-economic status, parental involvement, selectivity, you name it," said William Jeynes, a California State University professor who conducted the three year study. "What I didn't anticipate is that there is essentially no difference between the public charter schools vs. traditional public schools."

Jeynes' discovery came after he completed a research approach known as a meta-analysis, in which various studies and papers, including theses and dissertations, are combined in order to determine patterns and trends

In his education study, Jeynes said he sifted through nearly 1,000 reports before whittling down his sample to about 90 different studies covering the topic of education.

"God has been faithful and opened up a lot doors to speak before government officials largely because very few people have time to read through 90 or 100 studies," the Christian professor said.

The survey compared such things as graduation rates, test scores and teacher ratings.

Because the scope of meta-analysis is so wide, they tend to have higher readership, Jeynes said. His study was featured in the Peabody Journal of Education and will be published in book form early next year.

The researcher, a Harvard graduate who is a senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton New Jersey, said he decided to undertake the study because of the swift growth in charter schools nationwide and a challenge given to him by one of his professors.

"If you find a hole in the research, that's where you should direct your course," Jeynes said.

"It seemed to me, with the increasing popularity of charter schools, that the time was right for a meta-analysis that looked not only at traditional public schools and compared them with Christian schools, but also public charter schools because, especially over the last 20 years, (they) have become very popular."

In recent years, the charter school movement has exploded as parents, concerned over academic standards, liberal-leaning curricula and increased violence on campus, have sought out inexpensive alternatives to public schools. Charter schools, which offer more parental involvement and flexibility, have widely been viewed as a positive addition to the school choice movement.


Explosive growth
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment in K-12 charter schools increased by 259 percent, from 448,343, from the 2000-01 school year, the first year they were tracked, to 1.61 million in 2009-10, the latest data available. During that same time period the number of schools increased from 1,993 to 4,952, a 148 percent increase.

"Much of the idea behind charter schools is to try to mimic some of the advantages of attending a faith-based school: to try to give the leadership more flexibility to do what needs to be done; to be more sensitive to what the parents want; to offer more of a one-on-one relationship with the teacher and the child," Jeynes said. "Obviously, they can't copy everything, and I guess one can argue, especially as a result of this study, that maybe they can't imitate some of the more important components of what gives Christian schools the edge."

Part of the problem as Jeynes sees it is that the government is often too quick to adopt new reforms nationally. Since 1994, for instance, three different education reform bills have been implemented nationwide: Bill Clinton's Goals 2000,"George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama's Common Core, the latter of which states are now in the process of adopting.


Take it slow
The professor said he believes a much better approach is to run pilot programs in several key cities to monitor the results before changing direction on a nationwide scale.

"Historically speaking, perhaps because God's blessed (America) with prosperity and material wealth over the years, but we've had a tradition at the government level of saying, 'This looks good, this looks nice, let's throw a few billion here and a few billion there, and let's see if this works.'

"What this research suggests is that we need to slow down and really examine what are the types of schools in which our students do the best. It turns out that it's Christian schools, and yes they cost a bit, but it seems they are worth it."

In addition to the journal report, Jeynes recently presented the information to the faculty at Notre Dame University. He is also a frequent guest speaker at Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford universities.