Charter schools often are at the center of debate among educators and legislators. Still, the number of charter schools continues to grow, and many of these institutions have long waiting lists for prospective students.
University of Houston Economist Scott Imberman might have some insight on why some parents are willing to wait as long as three years to enroll their children at charter schools. His recent study indicates that students at charter schools show marked improvements in behavior and attendance.
Imberman's research is illustrated in the paper, "Achievement and Behavior in Charter Schools: Drawing a More Complete Picture," which will be published in the Review of Economics and Statistics.
"This paper evaluates the impact of charter schools on student outcomes," said Imberman, UH assistant professor of economics. "Many times, charter schools are evaluated based on their students' test scores. I found, however, found that charter schools have an immediate and beneficial impact on students' behavior and attendance."
Drawing data from a large urban school district, Imberman compared academic, disciplinary and attendance records from students across all grades (1 - 12) at 32 charter schools with peers attending public schools. Records spanned from 1993 - 2006. Imberman also interviewed school administrators.
His study reflects significant improvement in students' behavior and attendance at new, startup charter schools. Disciplinary infractions at these new institutions dropped considerably. Absences also were greatly reduced as Imberman found that each student was attending four more days of school annually.
Academically, Imberman found no differences between students and public school students.
Although this study does not reflect specific reasons why behavior and attendance improved, it points to the positive outcomes emerging from charter schools. Such data can impact how charter schools are evaluated in the future. This is particularly important as the survival of these institutions often relies on students' academic performances.
"If we solely focus on test scores, then we're missing a lot of the story," he said. "If they are staying out of trouble and attending school more often, then these are distinctly beneficial results. These are highly desirable traits for both educators and parents."
Charter schools provide students with innovative educational experiences and are freed from rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools. As a result of such liberties, these schools are held accountable for specific academic results. Curriculum is designed by each school's founders and may be specialized. According to the Center for Educational Reform, 5,000 charter schools serve 1.5 million students in the Unites States.