Charter schools improve student outcomes because they bring competition to public schools. In many districts, there are not any schools, private or charter, other than the traditional public schools. Without competition these schools have little incentive to innovate and improve. The introduction of a public charter school destroys the public school monopoly and gives parents the option to choose where they want their kids to go to school. The choice to send their student to either a charter school or a public school improves student outcomes.

There have been numerous studies of the impact of charter schools on student test scores. Most studies conclude that charter schools have a small positive impact on the test scores of students attending charters, especially in math. Several studies show that students attending charter schools are 10% more likely to be proficient in math and 5% more likely to be proficient in reading. Other studies show that students who attend charter schools are 10% more likely to graduate from high school and 15% more likely to enroll in college. Research done by Dr. Mavuto Kalulu from the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics (ACRE) also shows that Arkansas students at charter schools see higher test scores than students in traditional public schools on the ACT Aspire exam in every single subject.

Charter schools even help students who remain in traditional public schools. Researchers from ACRE at the University of Central Arkansas found that as more Arkansas students from a district go to a charter school, that district’s public schools see an increase in student test scores. For example, if 20 percent of the students in a district moved to charter schools, 1st and 2nd graders in the traditional public schools do 5-10% better on the IOWA test, which is oftentimes the difference between scoring basic and proficient. Further, if 20 percent of the students in a district moved to charter schools, public school students would increase their ACT scores by an average of one point. A difference of one point can often result in a student getting thousands of dollars more in college scholarships. If every district in Arkansas had 20 percent of its students move to charter schools and a one-point increase in ACT scores resulted in $1,000 more in scholarships received per student, then Arkansas students would receive $30,000,000 more in scholarships, which would make college more affordable for many students.

Aaron Newell

Student Fellow for the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics