The Definitive Ranking of 2016 Candidates… by Charter Performance

Note: Several candidates are missing from this chart. The states represented by Rand Paul (KY) and Bernie Sanders (VT) do not currently have charter laws. The states represented by Martin O’Malley (MD), Lindsey Graham (SC), Jim Gilmore (VA), Jim Webb (VA), and Scott Walker (WI) were not included in the 2013 CREDO study.

Charter schools are growing. The number of charter students has grown from 1.2 million to 2.9 million in less than a decade. Within two decades, a third of public education’s students – or more – could be educated in charter schools. That’s why the next president’s perspective and record on charters matters.  But what can we tell about the candidates based on how their states do with charter schooling?

All but two of the announced presidential candidates represent or have led states with charter schools. We plotted each candidate against the best data on charter school performance for their state. Candidates in the upper right of the chart represent states with much higher-quality charter sectors than the lower left. It’s the difference between a sector helping and hurting students. (I imagine the division between candidates playing out like this.)

The data above are from the 2013 Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) charter school study. CREDO determines the quality of a charter sector by comparing the academic achievement of charter students with “virtual twins” in the traditional public schools they would have otherwise attended. The numbers above show the one-year impact on academic growth of attending a charter school, in days of learning.

So students attending charter schools in New Jersey achieved 58 additional days of academic growth in math and 43 days in reading, compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools. Excellent news for Chris Christie. But school choice-friendly Mike Huckabee probably doesn’t want to talk about Arkansas’s performance: attending a charter school in Arkansas is the academic equivalent of 22 fewer days of learning. So will Christie jump on Huckabee for his state’s poor charter quality? Or will Hillary Clinton tout New York’s success with charter schooling, or mention Pennsylvania’s struggles (yikes…!)?

Obviously, some candidates have nothing to do with the quality of their state’s charter sector.  Carson, Fiorina and Trump, for example, deserve neither credit nor blame for the charter performance in their states. But certain candidates own some or all of their charter record. Rick Perry at least played a role in the performance of Texas charter schools; while governor, he raised the charter cap and made it easier to revoke the charters of failing schools. Bobby Jindal helped pass several bills to expand charter schools in Louisiana – a state with strong performance. John Kasich is trying – so far unsuccessfully – to turn Ohio’s sector from a cautionary tale about bad authorizing into something better. And Martin O’Malley led Maryland to the worst charter law in country for multiple years, with Virginia not far behind (looking at you, Jims Gilmore and Webb). These states’ charters laws are so brutal CREDO didn’t include them in the impact studies.

The candidates want to talk about what they’re going to do when they get to the White House. But we need to look at what candidates did – or didn’t do – when they already had their chance on the smaller stage. So, when are Bobby Jindal and Lincoln Chafee going to attack Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, and the boys from Florida on charter quality?