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September 20, 2017

Study questions charter school impact on test scores, future earnings




Here’s the provocative summary from the National Bureau of Economic Research on charter schools and labor market outcomes by Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer:

We estimate the impact of charter schools on early-life labor market outcomes using administrative data from Texas. 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 other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings. Moving to 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 throughout the distribution of school quality. 

I don’t expect the Walton forces — at their university campus in Fayetteville, at their lobbying offices in Little Rock and Magnolia or at the offices of their hod carriers such as Education Commissioner Johnny Key — to be trumpeting this study. But it’s getting a fair amount of attention nationally.

Diane Ravitch takes note that the finding is particularly interesting because the authors are not new to charter school research and one of them has received major funding from a backer of charter schools, the Broad Foundation. Ravitch adds:

The paper concludes with this speculation:

“Charter schools, in particular No Excuses charter schools, are considered by many to be the most important education reform of the past quarter century. At the very least, however, this paper cautions that charter schools may not have the large effects on earnings many predicted. It is plausible this is due to the growing pains of an early charter sector that was “building the plane as they flew it.” This will be better known with the fullness of time. 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.”

Apparently, the obedience and conformity taught in No Excuses charter schools do not help people in jobs where initiative and independent thinking are valued.

In Arkansas, we value faith. If it has “charter” in its name, it must be better than the conventional alternative. Facts? Inconvenient.


The Houston Chronicle, in writing about the study, indicates the charter school lobby says it’s too early to judge. Keep studying, they say. Texas was good ground to study because the charter industry is well-established and enrolls a significant number of the state’s students, about 3.5 percent.

In Arkansas, we’ll continue to proceed on faith. That includes continuing state Board of Education approval of failing charter schools.

Here’s a link to the full study.



Here’s the provocative summary from the National Bureau of Economic Research on charter schools and labor market outcomes by Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer:

We estimate the impact of charter schools on early-life labor market outcomes using administrative data from Texas. 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 other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings. Moving to 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 throughout the distribution of school quality. 

I don’t expect the Walton forces — at their university campus in Fayetteville, at their lobbying offices in Little Rock and Magnolia or at the offices of their hod carriers such as Education Commissioner Johnny Key — to be trumpeting this study. But it’s getting a fair amount of attention nationally.

Diane Ravitch takes note that the finding is particularly interesting because the authors are not new to charter school research and one of them has received major funding from a backer of charter schools, the Broad Foundation. Ravitch adds:

The paper concludes with this speculation:

“Charter schools, in particular No Excuses charter schools, are considered by many to be the most important education reform of the past quarter century. At the very least, however, this paper cautions that charter schools may not have the large effects on earnings many predicted. It is plausible this is due to the growing pains of an early charter sector that was “building the plane as they flew it.” This will be better known with the fullness of time. 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.”

Apparently, the obedience and conformity taught in No Excuses charter schools do not help people in jobs where initiative and independent thinking are valued.

In Arkansas, we value faith. If it has “charter” in its name, it must be better than the conventional alternative. Facts? Inconvenient.


The Houston Chronicle, in writing about the study, indicates the charter school lobby says it’s too early to judge. Keep studying, they say. Texas was good ground to study because the charter industry is well-established and enrolls a significant number of the state’s students, about 3.5 percent.

In Arkansas, we’ll continue to proceed on faith. That includes continuing state Board of Education approval of failing charter schools.

Here’s a link to the full study.

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