We’re already seeing a growing body of evidence that charter schools improve students’ academic performance, but a new study suggests that the benefits continue even after students leave the classroom. Researchers from Harvard and Princeton tracked a group of students from the Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy and found that, in addition to having higher test scores compared to their peers, these students were also less likely to engage in risky behaviors and enjoyed lower rates of teen pregnancy and incarceration. The data speaks for itself (via the WSJ):
That focus appears to be yielding results: surveys completed by the students—who were paid between $40 and $200 to participate—show that teenage girls who won the school lottery were 12.1 percentage points less likely to be pregnant; boys who won the lottery to Promise Academy were 4.3 percentage points less likely to be in prison or jail than counterparts who didn’t land spots in the school. Lottery winners scored higher on math and reading exams; they also were more likely to take and pass exams in courses such as chemistry and geometry. They also were 14.1 percentage points more likely to enroll in college.
As the researchers themselves note, Promise Academy is something of an anomaly in the charter school world. It is extremely successful and makes use of a number of rarely practiced techniques, including performance-based incentives for teachers, long school hours, and data-driven monitoring of students. So it may not be an accurate gauge of the charter world overall.Then again, one of the key advantages of charter schools is that they give faculty and administrators the chance to experiment with techniques like these without running afoul of the bureaucratic red tape and union regulations that are endemic to many public school systems. Its precisely this flexibility that makes it possible for charter schools to offer better results for students.[Classroom image courtesy of Shutterstock]