NEPC Review: Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap (Brookings Institution, February 2018)
A report, Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap, finds that, though charter schools on average perform no better than traditional public schools, urban “no-excuses” charter schools—which often use intensive discipline to enforce order—demonstrate promising results. It recommends that these schools and their practices be widely replicated within and outside of the charter school sector. We find three major flaws with this conclusion. First, the report’s recommendations are based solely on the academic success of these schools and fail to address the controversy over their use of harsh disciplinary methods. No-excuses disciplinary practices can contribute to high rates of exclusionary discipline (e.g., suspensions that push students out of school) and may not support a broad definition of student success. Second, the recommendation that schools replicate no-excuses practices begs the question of what exactly should be replicated. It does not confront the lack of research identifying which school practices are effective for improving student achievement. Third, the report does not address many of the underlying factors that would allow no-excuses schools and their practices to successfully replicate, such as additional resources, committed teachers, and students and families willing and able to abide by these schools’ stringent practices. Thus, while the report is nuanced in its review of charter school impacts, it lacks this same care in drawing its conclusions—greatly decreasing the usefulness of the report.