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New Study: AZ Students Learn More in Charter Schools Than Districts

June 8, 2023

What costs $2,000 less per student each year and yet outperforms traditional public schools at a rate of 3 to 1?

Answer: Arizona charter schools.

That’s right, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University has just released its latest analysis of the impact of charter schools on student education across the nation, and the results are exceptional.

CREDO’s new analysis—which accounts for student demographics, income levels, prior academic history, etc., to provide an apples-to-apples comparison—finds that:

The typical charter school student in our national sample had reading and math gains that outpaced their peers in the [traditional public school] they would have otherwise attended….In math, charter school students, on average, advanced their learning by an additional six days in a year’s time, and in reading, added 16 days of learning.

Looking specifically at Arizona, CREDO’s state-by-state analysis finds that Arizona charter schools deliver higher academic growth to students than local district schools do 35% of the time, compared to just 12% who do worse. In other words, Arizona charter schools are nearly three times more likely to deliver superior student learning outcomes relative to their district school peers. (The remaining half of schools post “similar” gains under either system.)

Similarly in math, Arizona charter schools deliver stronger academic growth than their district peers 38% of the time, compared to just 22% who produce less.

The CREDO researchers also note of their overall findings that “we find positive results are not only present in the aggregate, but also across student race/ethnicity groups,” adding that “Black and Hispanic students in charter schools advance more than their [traditional public school] peers by large margins in math and reading.”

Charter school critics will also have a hard time swallowing another bit of news: All this data comes from the very same group of researchers whose findings have been used for years to attack charter schools in the Grand Canyon State. Indeed, At the time of CREDO’s first study in 2009 (when the charter movement was barely a decade old), the researchers found that Arizona “demonstrated lower average charter school student growth than their peers in traditional schools.”

But now, as Arizona’s charter sector has matured and found its footing, it has embarked on the same trajectory of success being replicated across the country. Indeed, as CREDO notes of charters nationwide: “Over the 15 years covered by the studies, the reading growth of students in charter schools rose by 23 days of learning each year. In the same period, student learning in math increased by 37 days of learning each year.”

Of course, these data points make for some rather inconvenient facts for Arizona’s union-aligned legacy media outlets such as the Arizona Republic—whose extensive, “award-winning” investigate journalism series during the “Red for Ed” era repeatedly attacked charters and even falsified data to suggest academic inferiority among the highest-performing charter schools in the state. Hopefully, however, flagship publications like the Republic will now give charters their due. (That is, assuming the Republic newsroom isn’t too distracted by its decision to go on strike amid dwindling subscriptions.)

Arizona boasts some of the most successful charter schools in the nation, and it’s no surprise that statewide charter enrollment has surged each year even as parents turn away from stagnant district school environments. And now, with the expansion of universal education savings accounts (ESAs), Arizona-based charter providers like Great Hearts are continuing to innovate even further with the launch of new private schools as well. Such innovations may be greeted with howls of protest from the usual suspects (i.e. the same education activists who opposed COVID-era school reopenings and pushed mask mandates and radical ideologies), but for Arizonans interested in pushing the envelope on student opportunity, the latest CREDO findings should reinforce a very obvious notion: giving families a choice in education leads to better outcomes for all.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute. He also serves as director of the institute’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy.



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