Tuesday, August 16, 2016

National Bureau of Economic Research: Charter Schools Decrease Future Students' Earnings

In a devastating new paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the authors find that charter schools overall have a negative impact on students' test scores and future earnings. That means if you send your child to a charter, the data shows that decision will likely dim your child's economic future. And even the higher performing charters generally don't improve students' future earnings.

Not good news for the nation's charter school sector, which also was hit recently by the NAACP coming out against for-profit operators running these schools, while calling for a moratorium on new ones.

Here are the NBER authors' findings:
"We find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings. No Excuses charter schools increase test scores and four-year college enrollment, but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while regular charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings. Using school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings. In contrast, high school graduation effects are predictive of earnings effects for both low- and high-value added schools."
Worse, they conclude that it appears that in high-performing charter schools, the schools have focused so much on improving math and reading scores that they've de-emphasized arts, foreign languages and other "soft skills", which ends up hurting students in the long run because students need these skills to achieve in the market place. The authors theorize that this could be why high-performing charters do improve scores, but have zero impact on earnings.
"Much more troubling, it seems, is the possibility that what it takes to increase achievement among the poor in charter schools deprives them of other skills that are important for labor markets."
Far from being an attack on charters, the paper is a sober, scientific look at what many of us are seeking: a determination of whether education actually improves kids' lives in the long term. And it also helps bring greater clarity to the question of whether improving test scores will mean anything in children's adult lives.

I've always thought it silly to conclude that America is failing because our students score in the middle of the pack (or toward the bottom) on international tests. We still are the world's dominant economy and military force, not to mention its creative and innovative hub. To say our public schools didn't have a lot to do with our country's nearly 8 decades as the world's powerhouse is extraordinarily unfair, or at least intellectually dishonest.

What this report also tells me is that focusing on test score improvement does not necessarily mean we will be improving the economic lives of our citizens. For if we do it by leaving behind the subjects that have separated our educational system from the world for decades, we'll be improving our test scores by limiting our students' future.

It also tells me that three decades into the charter school experiment, charters may not be providing the long-term benefit to our society that many hoped they would. And it certainly shows (again) that investing $1 billion in nearly 400, as Ohio does, seems unjustified. Investing in our state's few high-quality charters and dumping the poor performers seems like the obvious solution.

But seemingly obvious solutions have eluded our state's leaders for so long on this topic that I would fully expect it to continue.


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