Study claims charter schools more cost effective, provide better return on investment

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

A study released July 22 by the University of Arkansas this week said research showed that charter schools provide a greater return on investment and are more cost effective than traditional public schools. The head of Arkansas' largest education trade group said the study only tells part of the story.

The study was released by the university on Tuesday and was said to have included research of schools in 28 states.

"The national report, titled 'The Productivity of Public Charter Schools,' found that charter schools deliver on average an additional 17 points in math and 16 points in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam taken by students for every $1,000 invested," the university reported on its website. "These differences amount to charter schools being 40 percent more cost-effective in math and 41 percent more cost-effective in reading, compared to traditional public schools."

One of the university's education professors said there were two primary reasons for claiming that charter schools were more cost effective than public schools.

“Across all states, we found charter schools to be more cost-effective than their traditional public school counterparts for one of two reasons: they either generate higher student achievement at a lower cost or they generate equal to slightly lower student achievement at a much lower cost,” said Patrick Wolf, Distinguished Professor and holder of the Twenty-First Century Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas. “Now that we know how well schools are using the public funds they receive, it would be fascinating to see what charters could accomplish if they had close to equitable funding.”

But Tom Dooher, executive director of the Arkansas Education Association, said Friday (July 25) that the study was flawed for several reasons.

"First, I think the readers need to know who funded the project — the Walton Family Foundation. They are pro-charter school advocates. So there is a bias going into that," he said.

Dooher also said the study only reviewed math and reading test scores and did not look at the "whole child."

"We know that a child is much more than a test score," he said, adding that public schools are tasked with providing a full curriculum and set of extra-curricular activities, such as arts, athletics, band and more, which contribute to some of the increased costs that may have been included in the study.

Dooher said limited extra-curricular activities coupled with the fact that charter schools are not necessarily under a mandate to accept and educate all children within district boundaries play into why the study is not an "apples to apples" comparison.

Even though he said the study was not a fair comparison, the university said the study compared "two similar students, one attending a charter school and the other attending a traditional public school. ROI (return on investment) calculations then factor in dollars invested in a school, academic achievement and projected lifetime earnings – to see which school type 'pays off' over time in terms of the economic benefits from increased learning."

“This study is path breaking and is likely to spearhead a new and important policy debate,” said Eric Hanushek, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, who reviewed the report’s methodology and key findings. “Until the 2008 recession, schools largely acted as if they were immune from considering finances and returns on expenditures, but we now know that this is no longer possible. This timely study invites a more rational discussion of policy choices, not just with respect to charter schools, but also in a wider context.”

But Dooher said a larger study needs to be conducted over the long-term before any policy discussions take place. He said that Art Rolnick, former director of research and public affairs at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, conducted a study that showed a real emphasis should be placed on early childhood education in order to increase return on investment and cost effectiveness in education.

"He did a 16- to 20-year study and started with children in early childhood. He found that when you educate the whole child, you get a 16% better return rate on that child," Dooher said, adding that overall welfare costs and incarceration rates proved to be lower, as well.

"You can't take a one year snapshot of one test that looks at a child's reading and math score. You need to look at the career of a child. If you want the answer on the return on investment, you need to look at the career of a child."

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Dooher said charter schools have not been in existence long enough for a study of significance to yet exist and added that until charters take on any and all students just as public schools must do by law, any studies would continue to be fundamentally flawed.

"Look, it makes for a good headline and it makes charter schools feel good about what they're doing, but it does nothing to tell us how well they're doing," he said. "I think what we need to make sure is that the public has an understanding of what do they want schools to produce? And once we have that understanding and ask that question, then we can understand what we want our kids to look like when they graduate. Once we have that, we can study to see if we're getting what we want. But to say are we doing that cost effectively is not an apples to apples comparison."

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For the record the "Arkansas

For the record the "Arkansas Education Association" is a TEACHERS' UNION, not a "trade group". Teacher unions feel threatened by charter schools. Why? Because charter schools are demonstrating how much more effective schools can be when they are not run by a teachers' union. Mr. Dooher cites no factual evidence that traditional public schools are better at producing a "whole child" (whatever that means). Instead he chooses to smear the study by linking it to the Walton family.

Define Union

Joe, what is a union? I assume that a union is an organization of worker's that has a right of collective bargaining. There is only one teacher's union in Arkansas of which I am aware. That is in Little Rock. I also assume under your definition that the American Medical Association is the doctor's union and the Farm Bureau is the farmer's union. I also consider the University of Arkansas Education Department a wholly owned subsidiary of Walmart and the Hussman family. They have no credibility as they come to the table with a specific agenda. Destruction of the public schools. This is just an example of the elites trying to take over to the detriment of the average citizen.
Joe, what is a union? I assume that a union is an organization of worker's that has a right of collective bargaining. There is only one teacher's union in Arkansas of which I am aware. That is in Little Rock. I also assume under your definition that the American Medical Association is the doctor's union and the Farm Bureau is the farmer's union. I also consider the University of Arkansas Education Department a wholly owned subsidiary of Walmart and the Hussman family. They have no credibility as they come to the table with a specific agenda. Destruction of the public schools. This is just an example of the elites trying to take over to the detriment of the average ...>> Read the entire comment.

Yep, it's all a big

Yep, it's all a big conspiracy. It's the elite 1% vs. the bottom 99%. The evil 1% wants nothing better than the complete destruction of everyone else. They are going to achieve this destruction by introducing choice and competition (scary words to tenured teachers) into our education system. All the parents and children who swear by successful charter schools are bought and paid for by the evil 1%. For real though: America is sick and tired of our failing education system that is run by thug unions. The cost of education has skyrocketed over the last four decades yet we continue to fall in rank vs. other developed countries. It's time for a big change and the charter schools are just the beginning.

Education

The parents should decide which school in best for their child and if it is a charter school, so be it. Competition for services works well in the market place so competition for excellence in education should be how parents select a school for their child.

I agree, with a caveat

yes, parents should have school choice. However, if you don't want a public school education, then don't be demanding public funds for your pet charter school. You want the "private" school education, then pay for it. And oh yeah, the Fort Smith region public schools have turned out some pretty strong students. Go look around town and ask people who you respect where they went to school.I'm pretty sure they aren't all from private or charter schools.

Competition works best In and Out of Schools

Private schools teach our kids and public school teach our kids and the schools that teach the kids better should get the lions share of taxpayer funds. After all, its all about education and teaching the kids, isn't it?

Huh? What? The taxpayers

Huh? What? The taxpayers ARE the ones who provide the funding for public schools. You act like public school funding comes from a magical pot-of-gold. If a taxpayer wants to send their children to a charter school then they are the ones ALREADY paying for it. It's not like they are demanding other people pay for their children to attend a charter school. By your twisted logic we should make school taxes voluntary: You only have to pay school taxes if you send your children to a public school.

Go all in or none:

Whichever route you take it must be all in. You cant have funding for charter, public, etc. Competition is good, but education is just like other things, you achieve lower admin costs and more services when you have a higher population of students. Sometimes rural districts simply cant help but have a small student base due to location, so that doesnt count. But to have a charter network eating resources and a public network eating resources all within the same town doesnt seem to make a lot of sense. Education is all about parental involvement. When you have dedicated parents you have dedicated and tuned in students. Other option: Anyone ever consider reducing the sports budget and increasing the education budget? Im all about a good game of football, but how much does Fort Smith, Fayetteville, etc spend on sporting programs and events? While the rest of the world is learning math and science, we are competiting for titles that generally dont help later in life. Is it more important that you learn to compete in a global environment, or that you won the AAAAA state football title?
Whichever route you take it must be all in. You cant have funding for charter, public, etc. Competition is good, but education is just like other things, you achieve lower admin costs and more services when you have a higher population of students. Sometimes rural districts simply cant help but have a small student base due to location, so that doesnt count. But to have a charter network eating resources and a public network eating resources all within the same town doesnt seem to make a lot of sense. Education is all about parental involvement. When you have dedicated parents you have dedicated and tuned in students. Other option: Anyone ever consider reducing the ...>> Read the entire comment.

Look at some our nation's

Look at some our nation's largest school districts like Chicago or New York. With millions of kids in these education systems they should have the economies of scale like lower admin costs and more services, as you just mentioned. Yet these are some of the most expensive and lowest performing school districts in our nation. So, no. You don't automatically achieve lower admin costs and more services when you have a higher population of students.

How ironic that the districts

How ironic that the districts you mention also have lower parental involvement rates, inner city school issues, and large public teacher unions. Couple that with rampant spending on a city level, corruption, crime, immigration issues, etc and you have a receipe that no school could overcome. Once again: Charter schools work bc they are generally pet projects that are promoted by a heavily involved parental group. Which that's great! But that doesnt mean it succeeds because its a charter school. It succeeds because you have parents involved in their childrens education.

Lets Face It

Fort Smith School administration is loaded with top management and the students and teachers suffer because all the tax money is feathering the hierarchy nest.

Top Heavy

We all know that the public school system is top heavy in management and the students and teachers suffer because of this condition caused by the failure of the top officials. Charter schools seem to operate more efficiently because they work like a small business that must watch the cost of operations and employee staffing to balance the books. The school system needs to justify their existence or turn education over to the charter schools that seem to do a better job of really teaching the students. Charter schools would not exist if the public schools were really doing the job of preparing the students for the REAL WORLD.

Funny

I've made that same general comment for a long time but keep getting censored out. I'll bet if someone made a chart of the public school hierarchy you be stunned by the depth of the level of administration.

Faulty logic

Hey, news flash. People right now are paying for other kids' education. Those families with no kids going to a public school or school at all don't magically get a massive reduction on their millage. So you're argument of voluntary taxes doesn't exist. And many times the per child share that the state sends to the districts is more than any single parent sends in. But yet they demand the whole share per child, not just the portion they sent in. So please continue this faulty logic line that doesn't use any actual mathematics.