Examining Variation Within the Charter School Sector: Academic Achievement in Suburban, Urban, and Rural Charter Schools


To date, there is a paucity of research that examines differences between charter schools that operate in suburban and nonsuburban contexts. This article examines whether students in suburban charter schools perform better or worse than their counterparts in traditional public schools or students in urban charter schools. Boasting the largest and most diverse charter school population in the United States, California offers a fertile urban-suburban context for the study of geographically differentiated charter school impacts and, thus, serves as the focus of our study. The student achievement data (2009–2010, 2010–2011 and 2011–2012 school years) for this study come from the California Department of Education. Using propensity score matching and virtual control records, our findings show that suburban charter schools do not improve academic achievement relative to the matched comparison group of traditional public schools. Suburban charter schools (namely, charters in high-income areas) are largely ineffective and appear to leave their students’ achievement unchanged or diminished. This study adds to the existing literature by examining the effects of charter schools on the neighborhoods in which they operate. Methodologically, another important contribution of this study is that it supplements traditional selection criteria for suburban charters (NCES classification) with census-based neighborhood factors. Finally, this study provides evidence of the broader implications of school choice policies in a suburban setting.

Publication Title

Peabody Journal of Education