Widespread Poor Performance Persists in Charter Schools

After nearly 30 years of hype surrounding charter schools, a large number of charter schools across the country continue to perform poorly. This is especially disturbing given the fact that non-profit and for-profit charter schools routinely cherry-pick their students, have high teacher turnover rates, are run by unelected individuals, oppose unions, over-pay administrators, and siphon enormous sums of money from public schools. Further, while academic failure is one of the main reasons charter schools close regularly, financial malfeasance is the number one reason charter schools close. Fraud and corruption are rampant in the charter school sector.

The latest charter school performance studies from the neoliberal pro-charter school Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University show that poor performance is widespread in all types of charter schools from coast to coast. ((These quotes were obtained from 2019 state and city charter schools reports and are readily available at CREDO’s website.))

South Carolina

On average, students in South Carolina charter schools experience similar learning gains in reading and weaker growth in math in a year than their TPS peers. The disadvantage in math for charter students is as if the students obtained 53 fewer days of learning in a typical 180-day school year.

Students in multi-level charter schools experience weaker growth in both reading and math compared to their traditional school peers.

New Mexico

Online charter schools are behind brick-and-mortar charter students by 159 days of learning in reading. In math, the academic deficit for online charter students relative to students in brick-and-mortar charters is equivalent to 130 days of learning.

In our 2009 New Mexico report charter schools lagged behind TPS in both reading and math.


Our recent analysis mirrors our last investigation in 2013, which yielded similar findings. With nearly one-quarter of [charter] schools posting student results that lag in reading and one third doing so in math, the collective impact on students’ academic careers and later life outcomes remains of deep concern.

Charter school students receiving special education services have significantly weaker growth than their TPS peers in both reading and math. These results are realized as 24 fewer days of learning in reading and 35 fewer days of learning in math.

Our school level analysis also reveals that 81 percent of Pennsylvania charter schools perform below the 50th percentile in reading achievement and almost 87 percent of Pennsylvania charter schools perform below the 50th percentile in math achievement.

Memphis, Tennessee

Students enrolled in Memphis charters affiliated with a Charter Management Organization (CMO) perform similarly to the state average in reading while under-performing the state average in math.

As always, everything CREDO produces needs to be taken with a grain of salt. CREDO is heavily funded by a handful of billionaires who have been spearheading charter schools for decades. These include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. This is one of the reasons why the academic performance of charter schools, which are segregated and deregulated, is likely worse than what CREDO portrays.

Many other sources also show that charter schools continue to perform poorly.

For example, in 2018, 50 percent of charter schools in Texas received a grade of C or lower. ((Keemahill, D. How did Texas charter schools perform under the A-F ratings? Statesman, September 26, 2018.))

Last year as well, Idaho Ed News reported that:

Thirteen Idaho charter schools will need to improve academically if they want to continue operating. The Idaho Public Charter School Commission (PCSC) has imposed a range of academic sanctions, or “conditions,” on 13 of its 25 charter schools up for renewal. ((Bodkin, D. Thirteen public charter schools incur academic sanctions, Idaho Ed News, April 9, 2018.))

In New Orleans, where all so-called “public” schools are privately-operated charter schools, almost half of the city’s charter schools recently received a D or F from the State. ((Hasselle, D. Nearly half of New Orleans’ all-charter district schools got D or F grades; What happens next?, The Times Picayune, November 23, 2019.)) So much for the “New Orleans Miracle.”

The Dayton Daily News reported on September 17, 2019 that:

On the whole, the 19 Dayton-area charter schools’ grades remained low. Those schools’ median overall grade from the Ohio Department of Education was a D, and their median performance index on state tests was 49.4 percent. ((Kelley, J. P.  Local charter school report card grades still low, but improving. Dayton Daily News, September 17, 2019.))

On October 5, 2019, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that:

The State Public Charter School Authority put 12 charter schools on a notice of concern Friday after the latest star rating results from 2018-19 showed low performance and gave five more schools a notice of breach of contract because of routine underperformance. ((Pak-Harvey, A. 17 Nevada charter schools on notice over performance, Las Vegas Review-Journal, October 5, 2019.))

Looking at the big picture, the Washington Post (2019) reports that:

When you take all charters and all public schools[nationwide] into consideration, students at charters do worse than those at public schools. According to the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, public school students in fourth, eighth and 12th grades outperform charter school students in math, reading and science. ((Vanskike, E. Charter school policy can’t be based on aspiration,Washington Post, November 1, 2019.))

A systematic and patient city-by-city online search shows that there are many more poor performing charter schools nationwide.

It is worth reiterating that these weak charter school results come in the context of charter schools routinely cherry-picking their students and frequently engaging in a range of unprincipled tactics and strategies to “manage” tests and test scores so as to make things look better than they actually are. This troubling dynamic is part and parcel of the stubborn fraud and corruption that haunts the crisis-prone charter school sector.

When charter schools first came into being nearly three decades ago, advocates made all kinds of irrational claims about them. Charter school promoters constantly went out of their way to repeat that charter schools will deliver bigger and better results in exchange for autonomy, freedom, and flexibility—the so-called “autonomy-for-accountability” exchange. But here we are almost 30 years later, and we see that thousands of deregulated charter schools across the country continue to under-perform and under-deliver. Why should any parent send their child to a school whose results are sometimes the same and usually worse than their own neighborhood public school?

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.