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Explaining Charter School Effectiveness

  • Angrist, Joshua



  • Pathak, Parag A.



  • Walters, Christopher R.


    (University of California, Berkeley)

Estimates using admissions lotteries suggest that urban charter schools boost student achievement, while charter schools in other settings do not. Using the largest available sample of lotteried applicants to charter schools, we explore student-level and school-level explanations for this difference in Massachusetts. In an econometric framework that isolates sources of charter effect heterogeneity, we show that urban charter schools boost achievement well beyond that of urban public school students, while non-urban charters reduce achievement from a higher baseline. Student demographics explain some of these gains since urban charters are most effective for non-whites and low-baseline achievers. At the same time, non-urban charter schools are uniformly ineffective. Our estimates also reveal important school-level heterogeneity within the urban charter sample. A non-lottery analysis suggests that urban charters with binding, well-documented admissions lotteries generate larger score gains than under-subscribed urban charter schools with poor lottery records. Finally, we link charter impacts to school characteristics such as peer composition, length of school day, and school philosophy. The relative effectiveness of urban lottery-sample charters is accounted for by these schools' embrace of the No Excuses approach to urban education.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 6525.

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Length: 59 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2012
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2013, 5 (4), 1-27
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6525
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  1. Vilsa E. Curto & Roland G. Fryer, Jr., 2011. "Estimating the Returns to Urban Boarding Schools: Evidence from SEED," NBER Working Papers 16746, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Angrist, Joshua & Pathak, Parag A. & Walters, Christopher R., 2012. "Explaining Charter School Effectiveness," IZA Discussion Papers 6525, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Scott A. Imberman, 2011. "Achievement and Behavior in Charter Schools: Drawing a More Complete Picture," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(2), pages 416-435, May.
  4. Abadie, Alberto, 2003. "Semiparametric instrumental variable estimation of treatment response models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 113(2), pages 231-263, April.
  5. Atila Abdulkadiroğlu & Joshua D. Angrist & Susan M. Dynarski & Thomas J. Kane & Parag A. Pathak, 2011. "Accountability and Flexibility in Public Schools: Evidence from Boston's Charters And Pilots," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(2), pages 699-748.
  6. Will Dobbie & Roland G. Fryer, Jr, 2011. "Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City," NBER Working Papers 17632, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Angrist, Joshua & Dynarski, Susan & Kane, Thomas J. & Pathak, Parag A. & Walters, Christopher R., 2011. "Who Benefits from KIPP?," IZA Discussion Papers 5690, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Jesse M. Rothstein, 2006. "Good Principals or Good Peers? Parental Valuation of School Characteristics, Tiebout Equilibrium, and the Incentive Effects of Competition among Jurisdictions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(4), pages 1333-1350, September.
  9. Joshua D. Angrist & Susan M. Dynarski & Thomas J. Kane & Parag A. Pathak & Christopher R. Walters, 2010. "Inputs and Impacts in Charter Schools: KIPP Lynn," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(2), pages 239-43, May.
  10. Joseph G. Altonji & Todd E. Elder & Christopher R. Taber, 2000. "Selection on Observed and Unobserved Variables: Assessing the Effectiveness of Catholic Schools," NBER Working Papers 7831, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Roland G. Fryer, Jr, 2011. "Injecting Successful Charter School Strategies into Traditional Public Schools: A Field Experiment in Houston," NBER Working Papers 17494, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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