Study: Maryland charter students’ gains outpace those at traditional schools; black, Hispanic pupils benefit most

A new study has found that students at Maryland charter schools, especially those who are black or Hispanic, have on average made greater academic progress than their counterparts in traditional public schools.

While the study noted deficiencies in about a third of charter schools, the student gains were the equivalent of them getting about an extra month of learning over the typical 180-day school year, according to Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO.


For black and Hispanic students, the progress was even more pronounced. Black charter students, for example, made math gains equivalent to 47 extra days of learning, while Hispanic children’s advances in reading represented 77 additional days of learning.

“These results show that black and Hispanic students are better off attending charter schools,” the report said.

The center compared standardized test scores for students at Maryland’s roughly 50 charters, most of which are in Baltimore, with those of students who matched their demographic profiles at traditional schools. Researchers, who analyzed four years of data ending with the 2016-2017 school year, calculated how much the charter students’ test scores deviated from those in traditional schools and how many more or fewer days of learning that represented.

But the study drew at least one cautionary note, from an unlikely source — the principal of a highly regarded charter in Baltimore, and one of the top performing schools in the state.

“Maryland has great charter schools and great traditional schools, all of which, if properly funded by the state, would be even greater," said Matt Hornbeck, principal of Hampstead Hill Academy. “I’m skeptical about any report that boils down the work of a school to a sound bite that makes people think their kid will get a 35-day boost in math. The report is misleading because it just doesn’t work that way.

Student gains were the equivalent of them getting about an extra month of learning over the typical 180-day school year, according to Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO.

“Charters are not the silver bullet described in the CREDO study. The work everywhere is the same and comes down to the way teachers and students engage with the curriculum.”

The study does acknowledge mixed results among charters, noting that on a school level, 36 percent are characterized by both low achievement and low growth in reading scores, and 30 percent are similarly deficient in math. It also found that charter high school students did not do as well as their peers in conventional schools.

Margaret “Macke” Raymond, director of CREDO, said Maryland is the 32nd state that the center has studied to compare charter students with their peers in conventional public schools.


“Maryland is producing results that are stronger compared to district peers than we’ve seen in other states,” Raymond said.

While charters remain a hot political button, Raymond characterized CREDO as “Switzerland” in that debate.

“What we are for is great schools for all kids,” she said.

Raymond said the underperforming charter schools are not holding up their end of the bargain — greater flexibility in exchange for producing greater achievement.

“A deal is a deal,” she said. “If you’re not producing results, it’s not OK to let it go on.”

The study arrives at a time when charter schools are feeling the pinch of budgetary constraints in Baltimore. Last year’s city schools budget cut $5.5 million from the charters, and officials have angered some proponents by approving only one of six recent charter applications and closing others.


In Maryland, charters are part of their public school districts but managed by outside operators who are given greater autonomy.

McKenzie Allen, executive director of the Maryland Alliance of Public Charter Schools, said she was excited to see such positive results in the study.

“Charter schools are doing good work for kids who need it,” she said. “This is why charter schools exist.”

Allen said the study will be helpful in identifying problem areas.

“There is always room to improve,” Allen said. “Anytime something comes out where we need to be stronger, the beauty of charter schools is it will be reviewed.”