(Guest Post by Collin Hitt)
Earlier this winter on JPGB I summarized the nine studies of charter schools (that I knew of) that use a rigorous random-assignment research design. I missed one. Harvard’s Roland Fryer and Stanford’s Vilsa Curto have released a study of the SEED charter school in inner-city Washington D.C.
SEED enrolls most poor, minority students. But it isn’t your typical charter school. While open to anyone who wins a seat through its enrollment lottery, SEED is a boarding school that’s quite expensive. It’s a ‘No Excuses’ school with strict discipline and high expectations. With control over students’ schooling, diets and leisure time, the school’s founders promised big results. From Fryer and Curto’s November 2012 report:
Our lottery estimates reveal that SEED is effective at increasing achievement among poor minority students. Students who enroll in SEED increase their achievement by 0.211 (standard deviations) in reading and 0.229 (standard deviations) in math, per year. Thus, SEED schools have the power to eliminate the racial achievement gap in four years.
Those are remarkable gains. But SEED comes at a steep cost.
At the SEED School in Washington, D.C., about $39,275 is spent per pupil per year, compared to $20,523 per student in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).
Leave aside for a moment that DC Public Schools spend $20,523 and get abysmal results. Sending a kid to SEED nearly doubles that cost. That marginal increase is somewhat understandable, since the school is housing and feeding adolescent kids. Nevertheless, those costs don’t typically fall squarely on the DC school system. So is it worth it?
Our lottery estimates suggest that attending the SEED school for one year is associated with a 3.8 percent increase in earnings (Chetty et al., 2012), a 1.0 to 1.3 percent decrease in the probability of committing a property or violent crime (Levitt and Lochner, 2001), and a 4.4 to 6.6 percent decrease in the probability of having a health disability (Auld and Sidhu, 2005; Elias, 2005; Kaestner, 2009). If SEED affects educational attainment as dramatically as achievement, the implied returns are dramatic (e.g. Card, 1999; Philip Oreopoulos, 2007). The public benefits alone from converting a high school dropout to graduate are more than $250,000.
For obvious reasons, SEED’s results are not indicative of all charter schools. It’s a unique type of charter school. But SEED’s results, while incredibly strong, shouldn’t have caught anyone by complete surprise. Fryer and Curto’s study is the tenth random assignment study of charter schools. All of them find gains for urban, low-income students.
(For the pointer, I thank Jon Mills)