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Report: Charter Schools Significantly Outperform Public Schools

November 6, 2023

A new report has revealed that American charter schools are outperforming traditional public schools on a variety of metrics. The news comes as an increasing amount of parents are opting to educate their children outside of the public school setting amid an avalanche of controversy over gender and race ideology, sexually explicit books and curriculums, males competing in girls’ sports, and more.

The study, conducted by the University of Arkansas, found that “charter schools are around 41 percent more cost-effective, provide 58 percent greater return on investment, and yield higher test scores than traditional public schools.” Charter schools in nine cities were part of the study, including Camden, N.J., Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Memphis, New Orleans, New York City, San Antonio, and Washington, D.C.

Charter schools are publicly funded, independently run schools that offer education outside of the public school paradigm. According to EducationWeek, they are typically not bound by the same state laws, regulations, and “red tape” that govern public schools and therefore “free up educators to innovate.” Between 2010 and 2021, charter school enrollment soared from 1.8 million to 3.7 million students. Meanwhile, traditional public schools lost two million students over the same time period.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), charter schools averaged 4.4 points higher in reading and 4.7 points higher in math than public schools. In addition, the University of Arkansas report found that on average, “each dollar invested in a student’s schooling in a traditional public school yields an average return of $3.94 in lifetime earnings,” while the return on each dollar in a charter school yields an average return of $6.25 — 58% higher.

Josh McGee, Ph.D., the associate director of the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas and one of the five researchers for the report, told The Epoch Times that charter schools “receive less money, including all sources of revenue, than traditional public schools,” but that charter schools “are quite a bit more cost-effective, so for every dollar in, they provide much better test scores, and they have a higher ROI [return on investment].”

While charter schools have traditionally been required to only provide secular instruction, Oklahoma recently became the first state in the nation to approve a Catholic school as a charter school, despite a lawsuit claiming that the school would subject students to “religious indoctrination.” Proponents of the decision, such as Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R), disagreed. “Nobody is forcing kids to go to any religious charter school,” he recently told The Daily Signal. “A charter school is just another option. And if a parent chooses that that’s the best option for their kids, why is the government standing in their way?”

Meanwhile, a study conducted two years after the COVID pandemic caused widespread school shutdowns found that Catholic schools also outperformed public schools in reading and math scores. In addition, students who are homeschooled “typically score 15 to 25 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests.” Overall, the number of homeschooled students in the U.S. has risen 51% since 2017.

Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council, was encouraged by the study but also pointed to other measurable factors in education which she argued are equally as important.

“It’s good to remind people about the financial investments we make in American education and demand greater returns on this use of taxpayer dollars,” she told The Washington Stand. “But it’s also important to assess whether our schools are delivering high quality education for students in other ways. Graduates may be getting higher paying jobs, but are they able to stay married and start a family? Are they contributing to their communities? Do they vote or run for office? There are so many possible measures of good education and some of them contribute as much or more to one’s quality of life.”

Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.