Skip to main content

No significant difference in math achievement gains between charter schools, traditional public schools

by Jun. 24, 2010, 4:41 PM

Ellen Goldring

New research based on preliminary data in a pilot study has found no significant difference in achievement gains on standardized math tests between students in charter schools and those in traditional public schools. The findings have spurred the collection of additional data for continued analysis.

Ellen Goldring, Patricia and Rodes Hart Chair and Professor of Education Policy and Leadership at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College for education and human development, was a principal investigator on the project.

As the school choice movement continues to gather steam and monies are poured into new options, research on choice is expanding to assess whether the movement is accomplishing what it aims to do, the researchers said. It is important, Goldring and her colleagues contend in the report, to look inside “the black box” to see what is actually happening in the schools.

The researchers learned that in schools where teachers reported that they have high expectations for achievement, believe it is important for all students to do well and emphasize challenging work and completing assignments, students experienced higher gains than those in schools with less focus on academic achievement.

Further, students had lower achievement gains where teachers reported greater instructional innovation. This finding suggests innovation for its own sake may not be the best strategy for improving student achievement.

It is equally important, the researchers reported, to examine not just achievement effects but organizational and instructional conditions in charter and traditional public schools. The idea is to get to the key question: Does choice lead to the types of innovations hoped for by its founders? As a next step, the researchers plan to continue the research by gathering measures of school effectiveness to understand what conditions foster academic growth and achievement gains.

Mark Berends, professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, was lead author for the report. In addition to Goldring, co-authors were Marc Stein, assistant professor of education at Johns Hopkins University, and Xiu Cravens, research assistant professor of education policy at Vanderbilt.

The report, “Instructional Conditions in Charter Schools and Students’ Mathematics Achievement Gains,” was published last month in the American Journal of Education.

This and other current research briefs may be accessed at the newly updated website for the National Center on School Choice, a research consortium based at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College for education and human development. The new website provides better and more extensive access to more than 100 research papers, journal articles and books on school choice.

A key feature is a searchable database that allows users to look for articles based on familiar keywords, authors’ names, and types of school choice, from charter schools to vouchers to magnet schools. In addition to the research briefs, the updated website also introduces a blog, “Matters of Choice,” that will track news in the world of school choice and relate it to research conducted by scholars associated with the NCSC.

The National Center on School Choice conducts scientific, comprehensive and timely studies to inform policy and practice. In addition to Vanderbilt, partner institutions are the Brookings Institution, Brown University, Harvard University, Indiana University, the National Bureau of Economic Research, Northwest Evaluation Association, Stanford University and the University of Notre Dame.

The center neither advocates for nor opposes school choice. Rather it exercises leadership in coordinating multiple disciplines, research methodologies and substantive issues associated with the design, implementation and effects of school choice. The center is funded by a six-year, $13.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

Peabody College was recently named the No. 1 graduate school of education the nation by U.S. News & World Report for the second consecutive year. For more information, go to