New study finds charter schools have little or no effect on earnings

One argument for charter schools is that they provide a foundation for greater success in life, but a new study of young adults indicates that those who attended a charter school in Texas are not earning significantly more and in some cases are earning less.

The best outcomes were for so-called “no excuses” charter schools. Former students at those schools, now in their 20s, saw, on average, a “small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings,” while those who attended other types of charter schools actually earned less on average.

The authors, Will S. Dobbie of Princeton and Roland G. Fryer, Jr. of Harvard, point out the limitations of their study, Charter Schools and Labor Market Outcomes: to start with, they were working only with data for students in Texas. The state has one of the largest charter school sectors, but the results were limited by a focus on former students who remained in that state for college and for work. That knocked out more than a third of the student sample.

The results might still be relevant in Georgia, where voters must decide in November whether to approve a constitutional amendment that could open the door to more charter schools. Gov. Nathan Deal's Opportunity School District legislation would authorize the state to take over persistently failing schools, with the possibility of converting them to charter schools.

The authors, both economists, speculate about the reasons for their results, suggesting that an emphasis on boosting test scores led to a de-emphasis of other knowledge and skills that are valuable to employers or that charter schools are still too new and are experiencing growing pains.

The results add to the debate about these alternatives to traditional public schools, as other researchers have found positive effects. For instance, earlier this year, Georgia State University professor Tim Sass, working with other researchers, found evidence that attendance at a charter high school increased earnings for young adults, with earnings about 12 percent higher than for comparable students who attended a charter middle school before transitioning to a traditional high school.

One well-known correlation confirmed by the newest study: high school graduates earn more money across the board.

See the new report here and the older one here.