News Story

National Study: Detroit Charters Should Serve as a Model for Other Communities

CREDO analysis says Detroit charter students have up to 'several months' learning advantage over traditional peers

Detroit schoolchildren in charter schools are getting a better education in reading and math than students in the city's conventional public schools according to a report released Wednesday by an organization described as the “nation’s foremost independent analyst of charter school effectiveness.” The authors suggest that Detroit charter schools should serve as a model for other communities.

The study was performed by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), which analyzed student and school data from 2006 through 2012. It found that each year students in Detroit charter schools receive the equivalent of a few weeks to as much as several months of additional learning in reading and math compared to their peers at conventional public schools.

Lynn Woodworth, a research analyst with CREDO, said the amount of extra learning varies among different student subpopulations, and the “equivalent to extra weeks” unit of measurement is an approximation. But he said the benefits of being in a charter school instead of a conventional public school had “a big impact” for Detroit schoolchildren.

In Boston, Detroit, the District of Columbia and Newark, charter schools outperformed conventional public schools in both reading and math.

“These four communities of charter schools provide essential examples of school-level and system-level commitments to quality that can serve as models to other communities,” the report states.

“This is flat-out the most rigorous study done by the most reputable organization on the performance of Michigan charter schools,” said Audrey Spalding, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “And again they found that charter school students outperformed their conventional school peers.”

A 2013 CREDO of Detroit charters found similar results. Specifically, it said that on average, Detroit charter students experienced greater gains in learning than their conventional school counterparts. About half of Detroit charters performed significantly better than their local conventional schools, a few percent performed worse and the rest did not differ enough to draw conclusions.

The 2015 CREDO report adds an additional year of data, covering the 2006-2007 to 2011-2012 school years. The 2013 CREDO report included data through the 2010-2011 school year.

“This is more evidence that the promise of charter schools is being kept,” said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA), in a news release. “We made the promise that accountability and innovation would lead to higher achievement, and we see once again that that’s exactly what happened. CREDO is the gold standard when it comes to charter school research, so these findings are significant. Students in Detroit charter schools are learning more and learning faster.”

Quisenberry added, “That’s no surprise to parents in Detroit, who have seen the benefits of being able to choose the right school for their child. At a time when some people are saying we need to stop the growth of charter schools in Detroit, this report is evidence that this is an educational option that’s working.”

In the fall of 2014, there were 51,083 students from Detroit attending charter public schools, both inside and outside the city. At the same time, there were 32,485 students attending charter public schools located inside Detroit, compared to 49,172 who go to the city's conventional public schools.

In contrast to some charter school studies that have received much more attention in Michigan's major news outlets, the CREDO study takes into account the socioeconomic background of students. Education policy experts say that failing to incorporate student backgrounds when looking at outcomes at different schools make the comparisons just a “proxy for poverty” measurements.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.