Teacher Value-Added in Charter Schools and Traditional Public Schools

Celeste Carruthers, University of Tennessee at Knoxville
,
Kristian Holden, AIR

Image of high school teacher student at computerSchool choice is a longstanding and highly debated reform strategy in the U.S. and one promoted by the Race to the Top legislation. Over the past three decades, charter schools have become the most popular form of school choice, especially in urban school districts.

Using school and teacher level data from Florida, this study investigates the degree to which differences in teacher quality explain the effectiveness of charter schools, and seeks to bridge the gap between research on the effectiveness of charter schools and research demonstrating the profound importance of teachers in advancing student outcomes.
 

Key Findings

  • First, we find that teachers working in above-average poverty charter schools have significantly higher value-added scores compared to traditional public school teachers working in similar settings, which is mainly driven by the right tail of the value-added score distribution, yet we find no such differences in below-average poverty settings.
  • Second, we find that cross-sector differences in observed teacher characteristics such as experience and educational attainment fail to explain any of the observed gaps in teacher effectiveness in higher-poverty settings. Instead, we find that differences in returns to experience on teacher productivity, which is significantly higher in the charter sector, explains most of the observed cross-sector effectiveness gaps.
  • Third, we find considerable differences in teacher support and teacher influence on instructional policies and practices between charter schools and traditional public schools, which might help explain the higher returns to experience on teacher effectiveness as well as the observed effectiveness gaps between charter schools and traditional public schools serving disadvantaged students.