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New York Post


How Charters Help Kids 'Left Behind'

October 28, 2009

By Marcus A. Winters

A BLOCKBUSTER study re leased last month by a team of researchers led by Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby proved beyond any reasonable doubt that students who attend New York City charter schools achieve higher math and reading proficiency.

But that’s only part of the story. What happens to the 98 percent of students “left behind” in city public schools when their classmates leave for charters? In a new study for the Manhattan Institute, I demonstrate that competition from charters helps these kids, too. There’s no longer any good reason to oppose charters’ expansion in New York City.

Critics charge that charters harm traditional public schools in a number of ways. First, students who leave for charters take their per-pupil funding with them. This is money that would otherwise go to the assigned public school. Second, if charters poach the “best and the brightest” kids, then low-performing students lose the benefit of a positive example in the classroom. Third, because even applying to a charter requires an involved, informed parent, charter students take with them those parents most likely to be active members of the public school’s community.

These are reasonable theories. Fortunately, they’re also testable.

I used student-level data on city students in grades three through eight over the previous four years to study the relationship between the competition a student’s school faces from charters and his learning in math and reading. Of course, other factors such as a student’s innate ability and the structure of his home life help explain student proficiency, but my analysis holds them constant.

The results turn conventional wisdom about charters’ effects on its head. The higher the percentage of a public school’s students who leave for a charter, the more those who are “left behind” learn in reading the next year. Public-school students’ math proficiencies are generally neither helped nor harmed by charter competition.

The positive effect of charter competition for student reading proficiency is best characterized as mild. For every 1 percent of public-school students who leave for a charter, the reading proficiency among those who remain rises by a small but not insignificant number.

The benefits hold for both high- and low-achieving students. In fact, the lowest-achieving students in a school benefit the most from charter-school competition. It seems that public schools facing competition from charters work hard to keep low-performing students happy and enrolled.

How can this be? It’s because schools respond to losing students from charters by improving the quality of the education they provide. When faced with competition for enrollment, public schools rise to the challenge by providing better service.

Charters have a positive influence on public-school students in New York. That the effect isn’t especially large and mostly confined to reading is irrelevant. Now that we know that students benefit from attending New York’s charters, as long as charters don’t harm public schools, they’re good policy. That competition from charters is actually making New York City public schools better is icing on the cake.

New York’s experiment with charters has been a resounding success, proving that all students benefit when educational options expand -- even those who remain in their assigned public school.

It’s time for Albany to remove the statewide cap on charters allowed to open in the city and across the state. The educational environment created as the charter-school sector expands is a healthy competition that benefits all 1.1 million Gotham students.

Original Source:



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