A new report from the University of Arkansas says that charters schools are more efficient with money than ordinary public schools, producing notably better test scores for each dollar spent.
The study, which covered charter schools in 21 states plus the District of Columbia, measured effectiveness by comparing students’ scores on national NAEP exams with the amount of money spent on teaching particular subjects.
In math, the study found, for every additional $1,000 per pupil invested by schools, charters increased NEAP scores by 17 more points than non-charters, an advantage of about 40 percent. In reading, charters had an advantage of 16 points per $1,000 over non-charters.
The gap by state could be tremendous. In Hawaii, charters were a scant 7 percent better in each subject, but in the District of Columbia charters were more than twice as effective as their public brethren.
The report was produced by the university’s School Choice Demonstration Project, a non-partisan component of the school’s Department of Education Reform that attempts to assess the outcomes of various school choice policies.
The data also indicate that charter schools produce economic gains for students who spend a longer time in them. A student with a single year of charter schooling has an improved return on investment of about 2 percent over public schooling, but one who has spent over six years in charter schooling has a return on investment of nearly 20 percent.
The study took pains to ensure that students in charters were only compared to students with a similar background in public schools, to avoid disadvantaging schools that educate a more disadvantaged or low-performing body of students.
Kara Kerwin, the president of the Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter group, said the study proved charter schools were more deserving of public funds.
“Not only are charter schools doing more with less, they are on the whole demonstrating a superior ability to act as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Kerwin in a statement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The importance of this body of research cannot be understated, as it ties charter funding to the most important aspect of education — student outcomes.”
The report is not beyond questioning, however. Bruce Baker, a professor of education policy at Rutgers University, has sharply criticized the University of Arkansas’s previous research on charter schools, arguing that they significantly understate per-pupil expenditures by overlooking certain sources of funding for charter school. If the figures on how much money charters spend are not correct, then any conclusion about their overall efficiency is suspect.
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