Research News

New book explores effectiveness, challenges of charter schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn.- As perhaps the fastest-growing sector in the school choice movement, charter schools claim to offer a bigger bang for the public education buck. The question is, is it true? According to Charter School Outcomes, a new book by some of the leading charter school researchers in the country, it depends.

“There is copious speculation about the need for, the effectiveness, cost and impact of charter schools on students and on our nation’s education system,” Mark Berends, one of the volume’s editors and director of the National Center on School Choice at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, said. “This book brings tested, factual research to this debate to provide some answers based on evidence to guide U.S. educational policy and practice.”

In three broad sections—teaching and learning; governance, finance, and law; and student achievement—Charter School Outcomes tackles questions most pertinent to the charter school debate. Among them: What research designs are best for comparing charter and regular public school performance? Do charter schools receive less funding per student than regular public schools? What do we know about the effects of charter and regular public schools on how children learn?
Charter schools are supported by public funds but managed by a private board under contract to the local school district. Though public, they are free of many of the regulations traditional public schools face. Thus—so the idea goes—educators have the freedom to try innovative educational and administrative approaches with the end goal of improving student achievement.

Interest in such innovations is growing as concerns grow about public school performance and costs. Charter schools are one of the more popular “choice” options in many states, with more than 1 million students attending about 4,000 charter schools nationwide. Other increasingly popular school options are magnet schools, school vouchers to attend private schools, and homeschooling.

Charter School Outcomes is a compilation of papers presented at a September 2006 conference at the National Center on School Choice (NCSC) at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development. The book’s editors are Berends, associate professor of public policy and education, Matthew G. Springer, assistant professor and director of the National Center on Performance Incentives and Herbert J. Walberg, distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford University. It was published in August 2007 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates/Taylor & Francis Group.

This is the first volume in a NCSC-sponsored series, “Research on School Choice,” which will explore and report on research surrounding school choice and its impact on student learning, including perspectives from economics, sociology, politics, psychology, history and law. The series’ second volume, Handbook of Research on School Choice, is due for publication in 2008.

The National Center on School Choice is one of 10 centers supported by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. The National Center on Performance Incentives is another such center, making Vanderbilt the only university to host two federally funded national research centers. NCSC partners are the Brookings Institution, Brown University, Harvard University, the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Northwest Evaluation Association, Stanford University and the University of Indianapolis.

For more information about the National Center on School Choice, visit

Media contact: Melanie Moran, (615) 322-NEWS