Heterogeneous Competitive Effects of Charter Schools in Milwaukee

A few studies in the early-to-mid aughts examined the impact of charters on district schools. Most found that the introduction of charter competition led to few changes in district behavior. Others disagreed. This new one by Hiren Nisar (of Abt Associates) re-examines that line of inquiry—but with a twist: Using Milwaukee data, Nisar asks whether district-run charters have more or less impact on the academic performance of traditional public-school students than charters run by other authorizers. (In Milwaukee, this means the city or the local state university.) His study—which attempts to control for student self-selection and ability, school-level factors, and other choice programs (i.e., Milwaukee’s long-running voucher program)—includes roughly forty charters (twenty-three sponsored by MPS and seventeen by others) and utilizes longitudinal, student-level achievement data (for grades three through eight) from 2000-01 to 2008-09. Now to the findings: First, non-district-sponsored charter schools have significant positive impacts on district students’ math and reading achievement, but only in math is that effect statistically different from the impact of district-sponsored charters. This is common-sensical enough. Since district-sponsored schools are still part of the district, with funding that remains within district boundaries, these entities likely feel less of a threat from charter competition. Second, the impact of non-district authorized charters is more pronounced for low achievers and black students, (a finding that reiterates previous research). Nisar’s work provides needed nuance to the body of research on charter competition. But we need to move beyond examination of student outcomes to other interesting questions, such as, under which conditions is charter competition apt to improve both sectors?

Source: Hiren Nisar, Heterogeneous Competitive Effects of Charter Schools in Milwaukee (New York, NY: National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, March 2012).

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