Do Charter School Students Achieve Greater Educational Outcomes?


Charter schools continue to be a hotly debated topic in the world of education, with educators and administrators tending to be either strongly for, or strongly against, the charter school movement. No matter if you are pro-charter school or anti-charter school, there are many facts and figures that seem to support both sides of this movement.

There are 43 different states with charter schools (plus the District of Columbia), and just like traditional public schools, their performance depends largely on a number of various factors that include the model of education, implementation of that model, teacher engagement, student engagement, school safety environment, and academic rigor. Let’s take a look at just the facts in three different areas: grades, standardized test scores, and graduation rates. We’ll examine traditional public school performance versus charter school performance on a national level.


Some charter schools seem to have figured out the key to increasing grades and performance, according to the 2013 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), located at Stanford University. The CREDO study concluded that, as far as grades go, the vast majority of charter school students usually perform no better or worse than their peers who attend traditional public schools.

However, one-third of students in charter schools are outperforming their counterparts from traditional public schools. In particular, says CREDO director Margaret Raymond, “The gains among blacks, Latinos and kids whose first language is not English have been impressive and surprising.” Raymond believes this is because charter school students have longer school years by as much as three to 10 weeks.

Standardized tests scores

Standardized test scores are one good way to determine how well charter school students fare when compared to traditional public school students. According to The Boston Globe, students who study at charter schools do tend to do better on standardized tests. However, the data cited comes only from Texas. And, they are quick to point out, this testing success does not translate to higher income or better employment opportunities in adulthood.

On a national scale, in the school years 2015-2016, a Department of Education study found that “charter schools outperformed their traditional public school peers on state exams in 65 out of 77 comparisons,” according to the Center for Education Reform.

Graduation rates

A recent study by National Center for Education Statistics found that the overall graduation rate in the U.S. is now over 84 percent, the highest in our nation’s history. And when comparing charter school graduation rates to those of traditional public schools, charter schools appear to outpace their counterparts. In fact, a study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research suggests that the graduation rate at charter schools is between 7 percent and 11 percent higher than at a traditional public school. However, this study only used data from Florida and Chicago. There is no hard data that shows that charter schools produce more high-school graduates.

A different study, conducted by GradNation, used new criteria as defined by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to determine graduation success in 2016. In this report, charter schools were seen as a “significant roadblock” to reaching a national graduation rate of 90 percent. New ESSA criteria states that a low-graduation-rate school only graduates an average of 67 students for every 100 students enrolled. Under this new ESSA criteria, charter and virtual high schools made up 52 percent of low-graduation-rate schools.

There is data to support charter schools, and there is data to support traditional public schools. Overall, the only thing a parent can do is make the best choice for their child based on the performance reported for both charter and public schools.

To learn more about charter schools, their overall mission, and how they may look in the future, download our eBook, ESSA and Charter Schools: An Introduction. You can find this and other great tools for educators on our website at

Alyssa Thornley

About The Author

Alyssa Thornley has spent her career working to support schools and communities in providing opportunity to all students. In positions as a teacher, professional development coordinator, and as a volunteer, she has focused on the community’s role in education, and in designing efficient programs that work for diverse needs. Alyssa leads TransACT’s customer engagement and market strategy efforts, and works to ensure innovative programs, guidance, and thought leadership from across the country’s districts are being shared and spread.