The goal of this BRIEF was to compile and analyze the available evidence of the impacts of public charter schools on students and schools. Using a series of five common claims made by proponents and opponents of public charter schools as an organizer, the existing empirical evidence was reviewed. The analysis revealed that student performance in charter schools is very mixed. In some cases studies have found positive effects in achievement, others negative effects, and still others no effects. The presence of charter schools has resulted in positive changes in some traditional public schools, while in other cases there appear to be no impacts, either positive or negative. Public charter schools, at least those found in urban areas, tend to serve more disadvantaged and minority students.
Taken in the aggregate, the empirical evidence to date leads one to conclude that we do not have definitive knowledge about the impacts of public charter schools on students and existing schools. But in reviewing the existing evidence, one is also struck by the fact that the impacts of charter schools appear to be very contextual. Some public charter schools are better than others. Some are very successful in meeting student needs, and others are not very successful. In other words, public charter schools vary in quality like traditional public schools. Success depends upon a variety of factors. Consequently, the impacts of public charter schools should not be painted with one broad brush stroke. Each should be judged on its own evidence and performance.
Silvernail, D.L., & Johnson, A.F. (2014). The Impacts of Public Charter Schools on Students and Traditional Public Schools: What Does the Empirical Evidence Tell Us? (Brief). Portland, ME: University of Southern Maine, Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation.