New study: Charters yield more satisfaction, but no better results than non-charters

Lottery drawing. AP file photo.A new, randomized study funded by the federal government compared the outcomes of students who won the admissions lottery at one of 36 popular charter middle schools in 15 states with those who entered the lottery and lost.

The findings? The lottery winners were no more likely to see improvements in grades, attendance, behavior or state reading and math test scores during the next two years than those who didn’t get into those charter schools (who, in many cases, attended the much larger, neighborhood middle schools).

With one caveat: Poor kids in urban areas did seem to get a leg up in math during the second year.

The thing is, parents of charter school lottery winners were far more likely (by 33 percentage points) to rate their schools as excellent, and the kids were more satisfied, too. They were 13 percentage points more likely to say they “like school a lot” than those who lost out on the lottery and attended other schools.

What do you make of that?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://www.movingforwardeducation.com Lacy Asbill

    This is an interesting study, Katy; thank you for bringing it to your readers!

    This is a good reminder that all schools (charter and district) are struggling to keep pace with students’ academic needs, and that there are no quick fixes that will solve the persistent achievement gaps we face as a nation.

    I think that the parent satisfaction data is interesting. Most of the charters I have seen pay a lot of attention to school culture, which positively impacts student and parent sentiment about their school community. I have seen first hand how attention to school culture over time can create a new learning environment for students. Our new leadership seems to be making a school culture push at district schools–it’ll be revealing to see what parents and students have to say after a year spent under the new strategic plan…

  • Jenna

    Many of the parents I talked to that chose charter schools did not choose them because they thought the education was better than their local public school; nor did they expect their child to learn more at the charter school.

    Nearly every parent I spoke to spoke of safety, discipline, order, policies and procedures and high expectations for their children.

    I would love to see a commissioned study to find out why the majority of parents in Oakland choose charter schools. I would like to know if the opinions I hear are the vast majority of parents, or are they expecting different educational outcomes?

    U.C. Berkeley or Stanford grad student – any takers on this project?

  • gee yu

    warning unless I am wrong there are 44 bayces school in oakland right 17 I think have not done welll

    also parents check your grad status at schools that do not have counselors.. at the check out line a father was complining how his son took two years of world history… andonly needed half a year of us history econ/govn’t
    wow I makin sure my daughter transcript is looked at real closely parent warning……….

  • TheTruthHurts

    I’m with Jenna and I want to see the study. I’d also be curious if over the long term, satisfaction doesn’t lead to better outcomes. If it is doesn’t, it doesn’t say much for satisfaction, high standards or safety.

  • Pamela

    I agree with Jenna. I know that for myself, I picked a Charter school for my son during his middle school years. The wish for a smaller school setting and availablity of staff made it a win-win for me. My son did well, much better than he is currently doing at Skyline. The personal attention to each student was also a big plus. The staff knew my son. You just can’t get that at a large Oakland school. It’s not anyone’s fault, it is just what it is.

  • Yastrzemski

    I also agree with Jenna. I chose a charter for both my boys (8th & 9th graders) for the leadership, expectations, safety , policies etc…not the API scores. They are at OMI, with an outstanding principal and staff, with the expectation that they will go to a 4-year college. Their graduation rate says it all…more is expected (demanded) and the students step up. This is not a group of “cherry-picked” kids either, contrary to what people think.
    OUSD cannot compete with some of the charters here in Oakland.

  • Gordon Danning


    Interestingly, I had a student last year (a senior) who transferred out of OMI because he felt that the classes were too easy.

  • Yastrzemski

    Gordon…really, that is surprising, they have several AP classes and the teacher to student ratio is very low (sometimes 12 : 1)…we have had Ivy League acceptances every year (this year is was Harvard).

    I’m sure that there is more to the story, that someone would leave in their senior year after putting in all of that time.

    May I ask where they went?

  • Gordon Danning


    I don’t know too many details. I can tell you that he is is a top student, and that he is unlikely to have had personality issues with staff. I also know that he was not at all happy with the quality of at least one AP class that he took (not all classes that are labeled “AP” are rigorous, unfortunately. I had a student a few years ago who got a “5” on the AP Chemistry test, but a “1” on AP Physics, so clearly the Physics class fell short)

    He transferred to Oakland High, presumably because that is his neighborhood school.

  • Yastrzemski


    My oldest son will be a freshman this year, so I’ll have more info. about the AP classes or advanced classes. I know that they offer an AP class in each subject, including Spanish, but since the graduating classes are small (under 80 students) there isn’t the variety that Oakland High would have.
    Thanks for the info., I’ll have to follow up on this.

  • Gordon Danning


    You’re welcome

  • CarolineSF

    Yastrzemski — The application information on Oakland Military Institute’s website makes it crystal clear that the school cherry-picks — the material explicitly announces it and there is no pretense otherwise.

    In addition, OMI as well as the Oakland School for the Arts have vast amounts of funds from private donations vigorously raised by Jerry Brown, as extensively documented on the Perimeter Primate blog and even in the mainstream media.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon Higgins

    Yastrzemski says in #6 above, “This is not a group of “cherry-picked” kids either, contrary to what people think.”

    You might wish to review the application form, Y. http://www.oakmil.org/20801081521242977/lib/20801081521242977/Application2010_final.pdf

    The application form requires specific information to be submitted to the school before a student can be even be included in the admissions lottery.

    CarolineSF is right. OMI clearly screens students for:
    – Family circumstances (single v. dual parent household, grandparent raising child, foster home situation)
    – # of years in U.S.
    – Attendance history
    – Expulsion history
    – Suspension history
    – Special education history
    – Disability history

    Of course OMI picks and chooses its students, otherwise there would be absolutely no need to ask for such detailed information in this very preliminary admissions step.

  • Yastrzemski

    To Caroline and Sharon,

    We have very different definitions of “cherry-picked”, since OMI has very low-income, underachieving minorities from schools with very low API scores and single parent, foster parents and grandparent homes. I doubt that they are at the top of anyone’s list of desirable students…they just have parents willing to do a little extra for their kids…like the application process (which is much more than a paper!).

    I think of the 3 American Indian schools as charters that “cherry-pick”, since they are looking for the top students and get rid of the ones that do not cut it academically, while OMI tries like crazy to keep at risk students in school. (However, I think AIPCS results speak for themselves…they are doing something right.)

    A lot of that money raised goes right to the students for uniforms (FREE), field trips (also FREE) before and after-school tutoring (FREE).

    They do not have “special ed” or “handicapped” students because they do not have the services to properly deal with their needs…and what parent of a child with special needs would want their child at a school that doesn’t have services for them?

    And do you think that kids that have been suspended or expelled from OUSD schools and get transferred, those schools don’t disclose that information?

    All some of these at-risk students need is some discipline (sadly lacking in some OUSD schools) and a 2nd chance…OMI provides this.

    So they ask on the application…how do you know that anyone with a discipline history is NOT admitted to OMI. Right now, they have their mandatory summer camp for incoming students…that is where these admission decisions are made. They let almost everyone in that applies and wants to come to the school. They find out BEFORE the school year starts, in the summer camp, who can make it and who cannot follow very simple rules.

    I’m always surprised at people who do not really know anything about a school and can make broad generalizations about which they know nothing about. The web site is not the school, and you cannot know what percentage of applicants do not make it past the application process.

    I’m going to find out from OMI what percentage of applicants are actually turned away. I know that they will lose some this week, and rightfully so…if you cannot follow the basic uniform rules, begin to follow orders, and work as a team, then OMI is not for you. Better to find out now, than have to transfer mid-year.

    I’m thankful for Jerry Brown and all he has done for the school, they are getting results and the seniors are graduating with scholarships to great schools.
    Until OUSD is able to offer a “Lowell” like SF does, then motivated middle-class parents are going to continue to chose the charters. OUSD is a train-wreck, and as an employee it makes me very sad.

  • ousd funemployed

    Wasn’t there an article recently about a special education teacher who won an award and who worked at one of the American Indian schools.

    OMI should take a few special ed students – maybe that is why the American Indian schools have such high scores. Is that what you mean by cherry-picking?

    If OMI doesn’t have the resources to provide special ed services, they’ll be shut down. I’m sure that would be great for Jerry Brown’s shot at the governor’s mansion.

    This is either a huge story or Yastrzemski is one of those people who knows nothing about a school but makes broad generalizations anyway – which is the sort of thing that always surprises me.

  • Nextset

    I find all this facinating.

    Why is is that OUSD kids have to go to Charter Schools in order to get a school such as this – why does OUSD not have a competitive academics school? It seems so simple to have one. SF does.

  • Yastrzemski

    @OUSD funemployed…I assure you that I know about this school…which is why you will not find me commenting on other schools after looking at their web site. I have 2 children at OMI. Some of the people who offer opinions, that they try and pass off as facts, don’t even have kids in OUSD…it must be nice to comment from the sidelines while some of us are fighting on the field.

    OMI (on their web site) has a non-discrimination policy for all to see.

    Instead of attacking…why not do a little research…that was my point.

  • CarolineSF

    Yastrzemski, your definition of “cherry-picking” is not the one that is generally understood, put it that way. In the education field, cherry-picking would refer to pro-actively choosing your students, by whatever means and for whatever reason.

    Cherry-picking is not the same as discriminating. And it’s not wrong in and of itself. But it is wrong to cherry-pick, deny doing it and then proclaim yourself superior to the schools that accept your rejects (“wrong” is not a strong enough word — it’s dishonest and evil).

    Checking on the application requirements as posted on OMI’s website IS research. And when the application requirements posted on the website explicitly state that the school cherry-picks its students, you don’t have to be in Oakland to comprehend that. I’m rather surprised that as a parent at the school, you are giving such inaccurate and misleading information about it.

    Nextset, I’m definitely not opposed to schools with competitive academic admissions. But it would be evil of a school to admit based on academic achievement and then falsely claim that it did not, tout itself as superior and attack other schools on that basis.

  • Donna

    Nextset @ 16:
    Although it is not the entire school, Oakland Tech has the extremely competitive Engineering Academy and the (less) competitive Health Academy. The Engineering Academy requires passage of test and used to require sophomore enrollment in Geometry. I heard rumors that it now requires sophomore enrollment in Algebra 2. Lots of kids are wait-listed, more than can be admitted even after admitted kids drop out of the program. The Health Academy requires an application and an interview, and dozens of kids don’t make the cut. The Paideia Program, a highly academic and essentially honors & AP language arts and social science program, is also at Tech. It is selective and kicks kids out. While not all Paideia kids are in the Engineering Academy, I highly doubt that any EA kids are not in Paideia.

    Tech, like Skyline, draw from a much larger geographic area than their locations would suggest. At the high school level, unlike the elementary school level, it is no big deal to get an out of high school boundary transfer. (I know less about O High.) Because of the range and number of honors and AP classes these schools are able to offer, they function as magnets for high performing academic students. The charters, by virtue of their smaller size, cannot offer this range.

    Yes, there are still low-performing disengaged students at these schools. And sadly, the break is mostly — but not entirely — along socioeconomic and racial lines.

  • Yastrzemski


    Where does it say on the web site that it cherry-picks students? Just because the application asks for the information, doesn’t mean that it makes the decision based solely on that information. What if a school asked for annual household income…would it mean that if you did not make enough, your child could not attend? Wouldn’t you at least look into financial aid or scholarships based on need?

    And what “inaccurate or misleading” information am I providing? I’m responding to both yours and Sharon’s posts that said that OMI denies admission to students based solely on the application that you read. I’m trying to say that most everyone that applies is given a chance at the summer camp, and then they are denied admission, that is on the web site…and I think that it is different than “cherry-picking”.

    You have absolutely no information from anyone at the school…right?
    You read something and interpreted it in your own way and then made an assumption.

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and I have respect for anyone on the blog that states their opinion.
    But, you are saying that you know something to be true, when I know that it is incorrect.

    My definition of cherry-picking is taking high achieving, no discipline problem, high parent participation students from the top schools. So, it might be just semantics…and I am confusing “cherry-picking” with “meets the standards” of the school.

    I might be in the wrong here with my choice of words or my interpretation of what you(and Sharon) are saying. I have no problem apologizing for that. But, I’m not wrong about the school and how they choose who to take in each year. Check the web site again and read the part about the mandatory summer camp.
    And, I will look at the application requirements.