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JPAM Featured Article: Charter High Schools’ Effects

March 29, 2016 10:00 AM

"Charter High Schools’ Effects on Long-Term Attainment and Earnings"

As part of our ongoing effort to promote JPAM authors to the APPAM membership and the public policy world at large, we are asking JPAM authors to answer a few questions to promote their research article on the APPAM website.

By: Tim R. Sass, Ron Zimmer, Brian Gill and Kevin Booker

What was the genesis/history of the idea for your research?

In a previous study (Booker et al., 2011), we found that students attending charter high schools were 7 to 15 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school and 8 to 10 percentage points more likely to enroll in college than a comparison set of students attending traditional public high schools. The findings from our earlier work are intriguing, but also raised additional questions. In particular, how should policymakers, parents, and citizens interpret positive attainment results when many studies have shown little or no effect of charter school attendance on test scores? Skeptics could argue that positive effects on graduation and postsecondary attendance could be illusorily if schools are setting lower graduation standards and not actually preparing their students for college or employment. Alternatively, charter schools might produce larger effects on attainment than on test scores because they are endowing students with skills, knowledge, work habits, motivation, and values that are important for long-term success but are not fully captured by test scores. In the current study we address these issues by analyzing the effects of charter high school attendance on persistence in college and on earnings in the labor market.

What is the main conclusion that becomes evident from your research? (Or, what is our main takeaway?)

We find that attendance at a charter high school is associated with a higher likelihood of persisting in college for at least two years. More importantly, charter high school attendance is associated with an increase in maximum annual earnings for students between ages 23 and 25 of $2,318—or about 12 percent higher earnings than for comparable students who attended traditional public high schools.

What are some of the more interesting or surprising findings/conclusions, you discovered during this process?

The positive relationships between charter high school attendance and long-term outcomes are striking, given that charter schools in the same jurisdiction have not been shown to have large positive impacts on students’ test scores (Sass, 2006). Most interesting is the large positive relationship between charter attendance and later earnings. Ours is the first study to be able to explore the impact of charter schools on labor market outcomes.

What next steps do you envision should be taken because of your findings academically and/or practically?

Further research is needed to test whether our quasi-experimental findings in Florida hold up in randomized experimental studies and in charter schools in other states. Nonetheless, this early evidence of positive effects for these students on educational attainment and earnings in adulthood raises the question of whether charter schools’ full long-term impacts on their students have been underestimated by studies that examine only test scores. More broadly, the findings suggest that research examining the efficacy of educational programs should examine a broader array of outcomes than just student achievement.

Authors' Bio

TimSaasTim R. Sass
Tim Sass is a distinguished university professor of economics at Georgia State University. His research interests include teacher labor supply, the measurement of teacher quality and school choice. His work has been published in numerous academic journals, including the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Public Economics, Journal of Labor Economics, Review of Economics and Statistics, Journal of Law and Economics and Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. His research has been supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Education, the Gates Foundation, the Smith-Richardson Foundation and the Spencer Foundation. He has acted as a consultant to school systems in New York City, Washington, DC, Charlotte, NC, the State of Florida and the State of New York. He is a senior researcher at the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) and serves as an associate editor of the Journal of Human Resources.  


Dr. Ron Zimmer
Dr. Ron Zimmer is currently an Associate Professor of Public Policy and Education in the Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. In August of 2016, Dr. Zimmer will become the Director of Martin School of the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Zimmer’s research focuses on school choice and school finance. Much of this research has been funded by an array of foundations, state governments, and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).  



Dr. Brian Gill
Dr. Brian Gill studies K–12 education policy, including charter schools, measurements of teacher, principal, and school effectiveness, and the implementation and impacts of high-stakes testing and other accountability regimes. He is one of the nation’s leading experts on the effects of charter schools. He served as principal investigator for the first rigorous, nationwide examination of the effectiveness of nonprofit charter-school management organizations, and played the same role on the first nationwide evaluation of the effects of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) schools. Brian also co-directed the first nationwide study of the operations of online charter schools. He frequently works closely with state and local educational leaders on various challenges in K-12 schooling. His work has been published in a wide range of academic journals as well as popular media, and his research has been funded by federal agencies, state and local governments, and numerous foundations.  


Dr. Kevin Booker
Dr. Kevin Booker is a senior researcher at Mathematica. His studies include the design and estimation of value-added growth measures of school and teacher effectiveness, and he has estimated value-added models for schools in over 25 states. He is also an expert on charter schools, having participated in several studies of the effects of charter schools on student performance, including a study for the Gates Foundation examining impacts of charter schools in 7 states on graduation and college attendance outcomes. He has done extensive work using growth models to examine education policy issues such teacher mobility and retention, and school turnaround strategies.  


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