News Release

Charter Schools Run by For-Profits Outperform Other Charters

October 22, 2003

There’s a romantic idea in the charter school movement that all it takes to start and run a good charter school is plenty of energy, ideas, a love of children, and some financial backing.

Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, decided to explore this idea empirically to determine whether the quality of expertise makes a difference in student achievement.

Loveless’s findings, published in the 2003 Brown Center Report on American Education, show that from 2000 to 2002, charter schools run by education management organizations (EMOs) made greater gains in student achievement than other charter schools. The report will be released at 10:00 a.m. on Oct. 22 at an event at the Brookings Institution.

The study examined test score data over a three-year period at ninety EMO-managed charter schools in ten states, sixty-two of which are located in Michigan. Generally speaking, these are charter schools that started out as extremely low-performing, with higher poverty rates and a much higher proportion of black students than other charters and public schools.

Charters run by EMOs typically target low-achieving students. But Loveless found that EMO-operated charters registered solid gains in test scores from 2000 to 2002, significantly out-gaining non-EMO charter schools with similar demographic profiles.

“This suggests that bringing in management expertise and running a charter school can have a beneficial effect on test scores,” Loveless says. “It looks like management expertise matters.”

Loveless also studied test score data from sixty-six conversion charter schools in California¾charters that were converted from regular public schools¾and compared the data with scores from other types of charter schools over a three-year period. He found that many conversion charters are producing average test scores with populations of children historically associated with low test scores. “These schools may be doing something that is worth identifying and disseminating to others,” Loveless writes.

The report notes that charter schools are over-represented among the schools defined by states as failing under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Charter schools have more ground to make up in order to demonstrate the adequate yearly progress mandated by the act. As a consequence, they are more likely to be subjected to sanctions in accountability systems, Loveless writes.

The Brown Center Report also presents an analysis of test scores in math and reading from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) from the early 1990s to 2003, examining and comparing state test results in math and reading in 2001 and 2002 with test results from NAEP. Both federal and state test results indicate that student achievement continues to improve in reading and math, but at a slower pace than several years ago. Math gains outpace reading gains, and elementary school children are improving more than middle and high school students. Twelfth grade scores in reading actually declined in the NAEP. One-fourth of high school seniors, or 700,000 students, do not have the basic skills required for meaningful work or success in higher education, Loveless writes.

The 2003 Brown Center Report also includes a national study on the homework habits of U.S. students, which was released at Brookings on October 1.

About the Brown Center on Education Policy & The Brookings Institution

Established in 1992, the Brown Center on Education Policy conducts research on topics in American education, with a special focus on efforts to improve academic achievement in elementary and secondary schools. The Brown Center is part of the Brookings Institution, a private, nonprofit organization devoted to research, education, and publication on important issues of domestic and foreign policy. The Institution maintains a position of neutrality on issues of public policy. Interpretations or conclusions in Brookings publications should be understood to be solely those of the authors.

For a full copy of the report as well as information about other Brown Center events and publications, please visit the Brown Center’s Web site at, or call Tucker Warren at 202/457-8100.

About Brookings

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Our mission is to conduct in-depth, nonpartisan research to improve policy and governance at local, national, and global levels.