NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Judging California's Charter Schools

July 3, 2003

California's charter schools typically perform as well as their traditional counterparts, despite persistent financial obstacles and far more uncertified teachers than public schools, according to a study conducted by the RAND Corporation.

Charter schools -- run at public expense as an alternative to public schools -- tend to have greater freedom to dictate their curriculums, staffing and spending.

The study found:

  • Because charter schools enroll a higher percentage of poor and academically troubled students than traditional public schools, their students tend not to do as well on standardized tests.
  • After controlling for such factors, though, there is only a marginal difference, if any at all, between the test scores of students in charter schools and those in conventional ones.
  • However, only about 76 percent of teachers in charter schools are fully credentialed compared with 88 percent in traditional ones.

The study also found that charter schools are much less likely to receive money in at least eight major categories of educational spending including federal poverty programs, special education dollars, staff training and efforts to reduce class size.

Because the sample size was so large -- about a quarter of the nation's 600,000 charter school students live in California -- the researchers said it should shed light on the performance of charter schools nationwide.

Source: Greg Winter, "California Charter Schools Rated as Equal to Public Ones in Study," New York Times, July 1, 2003; based on Ron Zimmer et al., "Charter School Operations and Performance: Evidence from California," RAND Corporation, June 30, 2003.

For study text


Browse more articles on Education Issues