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We begin by documenting the dramatic change over time in the academic characteristics of the students who have been entering charter schools. In table 4, we do so for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders by comparing the average prior-year test scores (and also the number of absences as a measure of student motivation) for students entering the charter school sector to those of students who stayed behind in traditional public schools for selected years.20 Table 4 documents that the charter school sector has been attracting a relatively more able and motivated group of students over time. This trend is evident for both reading and math test scores in grades 6, 7, and 8. In each of the early years, the entering students were typically less able than their counterparts who remained in traditional public schools. In the more recent years, however, the situation changed quite dramatically. In these years, the average test scores of the new charter school students exceeded those of their former public school peers by more than 0.2 standard deviations in reading and about 0.15 standard deviations in math. Although we do not have data on student absences for the early years, the absence data for the later years indicates, consistent with their higher test scores, that the new entrants to charter schools had about 20 percent fewer absences, on average, than those who stayed behind, indicating higher student motivation and other cognitive skills that may lead to higher student outcomes.

Table 4. 
Student Selection into Charter Schools
Early YearsRecent Years
200020012002201020112012
New ToRemainNew ToRemainNew ToRemainNew ToRemainNew ToRemainNew ToRemain
Charterin TPSCharterin TPSCharterin TPSCharterin TPSCharterin TPSCharterin TPS
6th grade             
Avg. read (lag) −0.070 0.001 −0.002 0.000 −0.048 0.001 0.232 −0.008 0.232 −0.009 0.242 −0.010 
Avg. math (lag) −0.206 0.003 −0.083 0.001 −0.084 0.001 0.149 −0.005 0.162 −0.006 0.169 −0.007 
Days absent (lag) 5.1 5.8 4.2 5.0 3.8 4.7 
N 1,200 95,281 1,463 98,110 1,748 99,848 3,717 103,328 4,019 104,925 4,289 106,623 
7th grade             
Avg. read (lag) −0.062 0.001 0.034 −0.000 −0.052 0.001 0.274 −0.009 0.259 −0.009 0.257 −0.010 
Avg. math (lag) −0.155 0.002 −0.051 0.001 −0.149 0.002 0.213 −0.007 0.179 −0.006 0.195 −0.007 
Days absent (lag) 5.2 6.1 4.2 5.3 4.0 5.1 
N 1,162 92,849 1,149 95,325 1,546 98,837 3,537 102,070 3,682 103,791 4,004 105,056 
8th grade             
Avg. read (lag) −0.094 0.001 −0.010 0.000 0.011 −0.000 0.287 −0.009 0.299 −0.010 0.289 −0.010 
Avg. math (lag) −0.167 0.002 −0.099 0.001 −0.051 0.001 0.154 −0.005 0.183 −0.006 0.146 −0.005 
Days absent (lag) 5.2 6.5 4.5 5.7 4.2 5.4 
N 851 90,103 1,014 91,899 1,205 94,880 3,142 101,415 3,445 102,175 3,711 103,917 
Early YearsRecent Years
200020012002201020112012
New ToRemainNew ToRemainNew ToRemainNew ToRemainNew ToRemainNew ToRemain
Charterin TPSCharterin TPSCharterin TPSCharterin TPSCharterin TPSCharterin TPS
6th grade             
Avg. read (lag) −0.070 0.001 −0.002 0.000 −0.048 0.001 0.232 −0.008 0.232 −0.009 0.242 −0.010 
Avg. math (lag) −0.206 0.003 −0.083 0.001 −0.084 0.001 0.149 −0.005 0.162 −0.006 0.169 −0.007 
Days absent (lag) 5.1 5.8 4.2 5.0 3.8 4.7 
N 1,200 95,281 1,463 98,110 1,748 99,848 3,717 103,328 4,019 104,925 4,289 106,623 
7th grade             
Avg. read (lag) −0.062 0.001 0.034 −0.000 −0.052 0.001 0.274 −0.009 0.259 −0.009 0.257 −0.010 
Avg. math (lag) −0.155 0.002 −0.051 0.001 −0.149 0.002 0.213 −0.007 0.179 −0.006 0.195 −0.007 
Days absent (lag) 5.2 6.1 4.2 5.3 4.0 5.1 
N 1,162 92,849 1,149 95,325 1,546 98,837 3,537 102,070 3,682 103,791 4,004 105,056 
8th grade             
Avg. read (lag) −0.094 0.001 −0.010 0.000 0.011 −0.000 0.287 −0.009 0.299 −0.010 0.289 −0.010 
Avg. math (lag) −0.167 0.002 −0.099 0.001 −0.051 0.001 0.154 −0.005 0.183 −0.006 0.146 −0.005 
Days absent (lag) 5.2 6.5 4.5 5.7 4.2 5.4 
N 851 90,103 1,014 91,899 1,205 94,880 3,142 101,415 3,445 102,175 3,711 103,917 

Notes: Table 4 compares the mean values of the three outcomes for those who were observed in the traditional public school (TPS) in the prior year and in a charter school in the specified year with those who remained in the same traditional public school from the prior year to the specified year. The entries are the values of test scores and absences in the prior year–—that is, before the students enrolled in a charter school. All reading and math scores have been standardized to mean zero and standard deviation of 1. N is the number of reading observations we have–—the other two variables are similarly populated, with some missing observations. Absences were capped at 50 to minimize the effect of outliers.

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