Charter Schools and the Road to College Readiness: The Effects on College Preparation, Attendance and Choice

School Reform, May 2013

Boston’s over-subscribed char­ter schools gen­er­ate impres­sive gains on tests taken through the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). Lottery esti­mates show that each year spent at a char­ter mid­dle school boosts MCAS scores by about a fifth of a stan­dard devi­a­tion in English Language Arts (ELA) and more than a third of a stan­dard devi­a­tion in math. High school gains are just as large (Abdulkadiroğlu et al., 2011). These results are in line with those gen­er­ated by urban char­ters else­where in Massachusetts, as we’ve shown in stud­ies of a Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) school in Lynn, Massachusetts (Angrist et al., 2010, 2012), and in an analy­sis of achieve­ment effects in char­ter schools from around the state (Angrist et al., 2011a,b).

Our new find­ings sug­gest that the achieve­ment gains gen­er­ated by Boston’s high-performing char­ter high schools are remark­ably per­sis­tent. While the stu­dents who were ran­domly offered a seat at these high schools grad­u­ate at about the same rate as those not offered a seat, lot­tery esti­mates show that char­ter enroll­ment pro­duces gains on Advanced Placement (AP) tests and the SAT. Charter atten­dance roughly dou­bles the like­li­hood that a stu­dent sits for an AP exam and increases the share of stu­dents who pass AP Calculus. Charter atten­dance does not increase the like­li­hood of tak­ing the SAT, but it does boost scores, espe­cially in math. Charter school atten­dance also increases the pass rate on the exam required for high school grad­u­a­tion in Massachusetts, with espe­cially large effects on the like­li­hood of qual­i­fy­ing for a state-sponsored col­lege schol­ar­ship. Other esti­mates sug­gest that char­ter atten­dance may increase col­lege enroll­ment, but the num­ber of char­ter appli­cants old enough to be in col­lege is still too small for this result to be con­clu­sive. By con­trast, our results show that char­ter atten­dance induces a clear shift from two-year to four-year col­leges, with gains most pro­nounced at four-year pub­lic insti­tu­tions in Massachusetts.