Characteristics of Students Enrolling in High-Performing Charter High Schools

Posted on April 25, 2011


Listening to the pundits and current crop of education reformers, one would assume that high-performing charter chains such as KIPP, YES, and IDEA (among others) enroll low-performing poor students and save their academic careers by providing requiring extra time and effort as well as holding a “no excuses” attitude. Indeed, those promoting High-Performing (HP) charter schools constantly remind us that these HP charter schools enroll very high percentages of poor students who are often years behind their peers. Yet, what we don’t ever hear about is the details about the performance of the students entering such schools.

Fortunately, the Texas Business and Education Coalition ( has a courageous leader in Ken Zornes who wants to know the truth about education and education reform. He has provided funding for me to examine charter schools in Texas using data on students and schools. Rather than looking for a prescribed outcome, Ken instructed me to report on whatever the data show.

Below is a slice of the upcoming report.

Table 1 includes the 8th grade TAKS scores for incoming 9th graders in all Texas schools with at least 50% economically disadvantaged students. The schools are disaggregated into high-performing charter schools (KIPP, YES, and IDEA), other charter schools, and non-charter schools.

As we see in the table, incoming 9th grade students at the HP charter schools have a slightly greater average TAKS math and reading score, but the distribution of scores differs greatly. HP Charter schools have a lower percentage of students not passing in 8th grade and a far greater percentage scoring at the commended level in 8th grade. This suggests that, rather than enrolling students “years behind their peers,” the HP charters are enrolling students that are actually high performing than their peers in neighborhood schools. This difference will likely even be larger with the removal of selective admission schools such as magnet and early college high schools from the non-charter schools.


The differences in the mean scale scores does not seem terribly large, but the differences are actual greater than ONE STANDARD DEVIATION. This is a fairly substantial difference in performance!

Why is this important? Because the ability level of incoming 9th grade students largely determines the outcomes of the high school. Outcomes such as the percentage of students meeting the college-readiness standard, the percentage enrolling in college, the percentage of students meeting the commended standard, the percentage of students graduating on time and a host of other positive outcomes. Thus, the HP charter high schools in Texas start AHEAD of their regular school counterparts, not behind!

In addition, note that HP charter schools have less than 50% of the percentage of special education students as neighborhood schools and less than 50% of the percentage of students classified as “at-risk” as the regular neighborhood schools. This suggests that HP charter high schools do not serve the same types of students as the regular neighborhood schools. Now, granted, the HP charter high schools do enroll a greater percentage of students participating in the free- and reduced-price lunch program and in the free lunch program, but these economically disadvantaged students are not the same as the economically disadvantaged students in the regular neighborhood schools!

The above is still a preliminary analysis and the HP charter data is weighted less towards KIPP and more towards IDEA and YES. Further, I need to remove magnet and early college schools from the mix as well as examine disappearance rates.I am also working on the same analyses for prior years and for middle schools. Maybe these other analyses will point to something different. Further, I will examine whether students entering HP charter high schools from HP charter middle schools are different than those entering HP charter high schools from other schools. We shall see in upcoming posts and in the full report to be released by TBEC in May of 2011.

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