Charter schools were created, in part, to improve student learning. More than 22 years since the creation of charter schools in Pennsylvania, the data and research related to charter school performance indicate that overall, this has not been the case. Explore the questions below to learn more about how charter school performance compares to that of traditional school districts.

How does academic performance of charter schools compare to school districts?

When looking at any measure of academic performance, charter schools consistently score lower than traditional school districts. The difference is even more apparent when comparing school districts to cyber charter schools.

Excellent examples of these differences can be found by exploring the state’s new Future Ready PA Index, created and maintained by PDE as a collection of school progress measures related to school and student success. Among the measures on the index are two designated as future indicators of success – 3rd grade English language arts proficiency and 7th grade math proficiency. Research indicates that a student’s success on these measures factor heavily in the student’s future educational success. When comparing cyber charter schools to traditional school districts, we see that:

  • 3rd grade English language proficiency was 18.5% lower in cyber charter schools than traditional school districts.
  • 7th grade math proficiency was 25.4% lower in cyber charter schools than traditional school districts.

Under the new accountability measures established by PDE to implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), 13 of 15 cyber charter schools have been identified by the state as Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) or Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI) schools. Schools identified as CSI are those schools facing the most significant challenges in academic achievement, student growth, and other areas. Schools identified as ATSI schools are those schools in which performance by one or more student groups (such as students with disabilities, English learners, or a racial group) is at or below the level of the CSI schools. More information on CSI and ATSI schools can be found on PDE’s website.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. During the five years when the state issued School Performance Profile scores, none of Pennsylvania’s cyber schools earned passing grades.

The chart below shows the difference, or gap, in proficiency in several key indicators of academic achievement for the 2017-18 school year. For purposes of this chart, proficiency includes all students who scored advanced or proficient on state assessments.

Hover over a data point for more information. Click the arrows at the bottom of the chart to scroll between pages or click on the “Page x of y” to select which page to jump to.

How does performance on state assessments compare?

Regardless of the subject matter or grade level, the performance of charter schools on state academic assessments are consistently and substantially below the level of traditional school districts. On average, charter school proficiency is more than 20% lower than traditional school districts.

The chart below shows the results of state assessments for the 2017-18 school year by school type, subject area, and grade level.

Use the filters to explore the data. Start by selecting one or more school types to begin comparing data, then select one or more subject areas and grade levels. Hold the Ctrl button while clicking to select more than one data point.


How do graduation rates compare?

Although graduation rates of brick-and-mortar charter schools are only a few percentage points behind school districts, graduation rates at cyber charter schools are substantially lower. In fact, 4-year graduation rates at cyber charter schools are more than 31% lower than school districts.

What does the research say?

A study of Pennsylvania’s charter school performance released in June 2019 by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that students enrolled in cyber schools post significantly weaker growth than the average student in a traditional public school and the average brick-and-mortar charter school student. The study showed that a student enrolled in a cyber charter school loses the equivalent of 106 days of learning in reading and about 118 days of learning in math compared to the average traditional public school student.

Further, the report noted that “any potential benefits of online schooling such as student mobility and flexibility in curriculum are drowned out by the negative impacts on academic growth of students enrolled in such schools.” The study also showed there has been little to no progress in Pennsylvania charter school performance since CREDO’s 2013 National Charter School Study.

Despite the generally flat performance overall, there were some important positive findings for Pennsylvania charter schools. Most notable is the strong reading performance of some brick-and-mortar charter schools; in math, brick-and-mortar charter school students perform similarly to the average traditional public school.