New U. of. C. report evaluates charter and non-charter high schools

Staff Writer

Charter school high school students in the city of Chicago had higher attendance and test scores compared to students in non-charter high schools, according to a new study by the University of Chicago (U. of C.) Consortium on School Research.

Additionally, the U. of C. Consortium wrote that “rates of four-year college enrollment and enrollment in more selective colleges were higher, on average, for students at charter schools than similar students at non-charter high schools.”

The enrollment rate in a four-year college or university was 45 percent for charter high school students compared to 26 percent for non-charter high school students, according to U. of C.’s report.

Also, seven percent of charter high school students were more likely to enroll in a “very selective college or university” compared to two percent of traditional CPS high school students.

The full report titled, “Chicago’s Charter High Schools: Organizational Features, Enrollment, School Transfers, and Student Performance” was written by Julia A. Gwynne and Paul T. Moore and it examines the difference between charter and non-charter high schools in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) based on students’ incoming characteristics, performance in high school, and performance on post-secondary outcomes.

The report is centered on four elements of charter high schools in CPS: school organization and policies; incoming skills and characteristics of charter high school enrollees; school transfers; and student performance.

“The vast majority of existing research on charter schools just looks at test scores,” said Gwynne, who is the managing director and senior research scientist at U. of C.’s Consortium on School Research. “Test scores are important, and they tell us useful information about students. We just wanted to move beyond what is currently being done.”

Gwynne noted that she has come to find from other research that other factors such as grades and attendance are just as important to evaluate and “capture a broader range of student behaviors that are important for success.”

The U. of C. Consortium for this study used teacher and student responses from an annual survey that is administered by CPS.

The study incorporates all regular high schools and charter high schools and most of the research is based on students who were first-time ninth-graders in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The study does not identify individual school’s performance or charter networks.

Some findings from the study are consistent with current education research trends on charter, Gwynne said.

For example, according to the study, CPS charter high schools looked similar to non-charter, non-selective schools “on some dimensions of organizational capacity, such as leadership.” The difference though is instruction and preparation of students for their post-secondary futures.

“Charter school students were more likely than similar students in non-charter high schools to describe their schools as more academically demanding and report that their school engaged in helping them plan for the future,” said U. of C. in the report. “Charter school teachers also reported that their schools were more likely to expect students to go to college and to promote college readiness.”

Other key findings from the report show that charter high school students transfer at higher rates compared to students at traditional CPS high schools.

About 24 percent of students who began high school in a charter school transferred to another school in the district, compared to 17 percent of non-charter students.

The consortium did not look at reasons behind the transfers, but stated in their report that “more research is needed to understand the specific reasons why so many charter school students changed schools at some point during their high school career.”

Gwynne said there had been a longstanding concern among education advocates that because charter schools have more control on internal processes that “charter schools could be motivated to push out low performing students as a means of protecting their academic reputation.”

The study found that transfer rates were the highest in low-performing or recently-opened charter high schools.

“We do find that charter school students are more likely to transfer out of all kinds of schools regardless of their performance, Gwynn said. “It’s just that transfer rates were highest for students in low performing schools.”

What’s most surprising too in the report said Gwynne is the variation amongst charter high schools.

“There was just an enormous spread in the performance of different charter schools,” Gwynne said. “Not all charter schools look the same there are, some charter schools where students have very high test scores, but there are also some low performing charter schools.”

The report was an opportunity, Gwynne said to provide context on how charter schools are performing in Chicago in the wake of the longstanding national debate on school choice.

To read the full report visit,