ATLANTA—Charter school graduates earn more than students who attend conventional public schools, according to the first large-scale study of the effects of charter schools on earnings in adulthood.
The study also reinforces the researchers’ previous findings that students who attend charter high schools are more likely to enroll and persist in college.
Maximum annual earnings were about $2,300 higher for those aged 23-25 who attended charter high schools versus conventional public schools across the state of Florida, according to economist Tim Sass, a distinguished university professor at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, and his co-authors Ron Zimmer at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College and senior fellow Brian Gill and senior researcher Kevin Booker of Mathematica Policy Research. They also found that students who attended charter high schools were more likely to attend a two- or four-year college by an estimated nine percentage points.
The study was published today in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, a journal of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM). It was funded by the Joyce Foundation.
“Most of the research in this area has focused on the short-term effects on student test scores, which may not capture the full impact of charter schools on students,” Sass said. “We decided to examine longer-term outcomes like high school graduation, college enrollment and completion, and earnings, because these may have a greater lifetime consequence than test scores.”
Sass and his colleagues found the positive relationships between charter high school attendance and long-term outcomes striking. Most studies in this field have found little to suggest that charter schools promote positive test scores, on average, across an entire state, even though some charter schools produce substantial test-score gains.
The study suggests that charter high schools are endowing their students with skills that test scores do not capture, such as those that promote success in college and career.
“Perhaps charter schools are trying to focus on promoting life skills like grit, persistence, self-control and conscientiousness,” Zimmer said. “But more research would be needed to test this hypothesis.”
Early evidence of the positive effects high school charter school students receive in educational attainment and earnings in adulthood raises the question whether the full, long-term impact of these schools have been underestimated by studies that examine only test scores.
“Our findings suggest that research conducted to examine the efficacy of education programs should examine a broader array of outcomes than just test scores,” the authors concluded.
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Sass is an applied micro-economist whose research focuses on the economics of education. Specific areas of interest include teacher labor supply, the measurement of teacher quality and school choice. He has acted as a consultant to school systems in New York City, Washington, D.C., Charlotte, N.C., the State of Florida and the State of New York.