The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) released a study last month that examined whether students transfer out of charter schools at higher rates than traditional public schools. This issue is important because researchers have found that changing schools can affect student achievement, and it may be a contributor to the achievement gap for minority and disadvantaged students who change schools frequently.
For the study, IBO monitored a cohort of students starting kindergarten in 2008 at 53 charter schools and 116 traditional public schools, and followed these students through their third grade year. The study found that on average, students attending public charter schools stay enrolled in the same school at a higher rate than students at nearby traditional public schools. Specifically:
- About 70 percent of students attending charter schools in school year 2008-2009 remained in the same school three years later.
- 61 percent of the traditional school student cohort attended the same school three years later.
- Charter schools continued to show a higher retention rate when students are compared by gender, race/ethnicity, poverty level, and English language learner status.
The one exception is special education students, who transfer from charter schools at a higher rate than either general education students in charter schools or special education students in traditional public schools. While we don’t know why these students are leaving charter schools and there were very few special needs students in the study, we are concerned by this finding. To continue work on this issue, the National Alliance is working closely with the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools to help charter schools better serve students with special needs.
The study further found that—regardless of school type—students who remained in the same school from kindergarten through third grade scored higher on standardized math and reading tests in third grade than their peers who switched schools. This is an important policy issue for New York City as Mayor de Blasio considers ending co-location and facility funding for public charter schools. If charter schools are financially forced out of operation and students have to transfer to a different school, research shows that their students, especially those who are most disadvantaged, will suffer.
Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.