Charter High School Graduates Achieve Higher Earnings as Adults

New Study Also Examines Graduation Rate and College Enrollment
Apr 04, 2016

The first large-scale study of the effects of charter schools on earnings in adulthood shows that charter school graduates earn more than students who attend conventional public schools. The study also reinforces the authors’ previous findings that students who attend charter high schools are more likely to enroll and persist in college.

Maximum annual earnings were approximately $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 Managementa journal of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM). The study is 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,” said Sass. “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 new study suggests the possibility 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. But more research would be needed to test this hypothesis,” said Zimmer.

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.

Read the APPAM feature.