Do Charter Schools Outperform Traditional Schools in UC Admittance?

A few weeks ago, I put out a top twenty list of UC admittance in LAUSD. Almost immediately, people noted that more than half the list were charter schools. LA School Report noted, “Of the top 20 schools in LA Unified with the highest UC acceptance rates, calculated by School Data Nerd blog, more than half were independent charters.”

So that got me thinking – Do charter schools outperform traditional schools in UC Admittance?

First, let’s look at statewide results:

Statewide, the effect of charter schools is relatively low. The biggest difference is in applications. Charter students apply to UCs at a rate 4.6% higher than traditional school students. That alone might account for the higher admittance rate. But overall, that increased admittance rate is not super impressive.

But what about in Los Angeles? Are the results different in LAUSD?

In Los Angeles Unified, charter students apply at a rate that is 7.3% higher than traditional schools and get admitted at a rate that is 4.8% higher. Charter schools in LA also perform 2.6% higher than charter schools across the state.

Why does this happen? Why do charters in Los Angeles perform better than those across the state?

I think the reason comes down to one set of schools: Alliance College Ready Public Schools is a beast when it comes to UC admittance. 29% of their students get admitted to UC’s. And their success is consistent – all of their schools are above a 14% admittance rate. Without Alliance, the LAUSD Charter admittance lowers from 19.5% to 17%, which would essentially be a similar result to the statewide level.

So let’s go back to that original question – Do charters outperform traditional schools in UC Admittance? The answer is more complex than a simple yes or no. Statewide, the results are pretty similar. But in Los Angeles, yes, charters do outperform traditional schools, but it is primarily because of one very large, very successful CMO that seems to really know what it is doing when it comes to college acceptance.


10 Comment

  1. Keen Observer says:

    Charters are more appropriately compared with Magnets, and Magnets outperform charters by a wide margin for every grade and almost every subgroup on the SBAC. Good luck trying to disaggregate UC data for magnets.

    1. School Data Nerd says:

      Please tell me more why you feel that this is a more accurate comparison.

      1. Elizabeth isralowitz says:

        Also have parents who must sign their kids up. Sounds simple but you are excluding parents who are not active in their child’s education, who are illiterate, transient, and/or do not have internet access.

  2. William Ouchi says:

    I performed this analysis ten years ago. I found that LAUSD Magnet schools on average were approximately 16% Title I students. I believe that Alliance is more than 90% Title I, but I welcome being corrected.

  3. Keen Observer says:

    Per the LAUSD Board Informative dated August 29, 2016, charters are 82% “economically disadvantaged” and magnets are 69%. Magnets (all grades) outperformed charters by 61% to 45% in ELA on the SBAC and by 48% to 31% in Mathematics – larger in both cases than the difference in economically disadvantaged students. Among economically disadvantaged students, magnets outperformed charters by 55% to 42% on the SBAC ELA and by 41% to 27% on the SBAC Math.

  4. MathAppeal says:

    I’m using your numbers and am not ready to draw the same conclusions you have. I completely disagree that charter schools in L.A. are admitted to UC schools at a higher rate than charters in the state overall. In Los Angeles charters, 19.5% out of 31.8% who applied were admitted; that’s a 61.3% admittance rate for LAUSD charters. Statewide, 16.9% of 26.9% who applied were admitted; that’s a 62.8% admittance rate for charters statewide. So it seems, then, that charters outside of L.A. have higher admittance rates than charters within L.A. Also, notice that traditional schools statewide have the highest acceptance rate overall, with 15.2% out of 22.3%, or 68.2% accepted. The larger issue for me, though, is not the question of how many students are admitted to college but rather how many students actually complete their college education.

    1. School Data Nerd says:

      Thank you for this opinion. A few points:
      1. We are not looking at admittance per application rate. That number has its own relevance – it is a measure of whether schools are advising students to apply appropriately and coaching them through the process. But what I am trying to measure here is just what percentage of the graduating class were accepted to a UC.
      2. As for your larger issues, I agree, it would be sweeeeeeeeet to know whether they complete college, but that data is not publicly released. I would also love to have Cal State data, but I can’t find that either. But I try not to complain about the data I don’t have, and just try to make sense of the data we do have.

  5. Mean Old Man says:


    You are such a nerd. And do a good job providing ample fodder for……..??? Seriously, what’s the point of all this? By the looks of the comments on your recent posts, most people are interested in this data to either find a good school, to slap themselves on the back for a job well done, or to throw stones at traditional schools. They all leave me cold.

    Do UC admittance rates tell us anything different than SBAC scores anyway? I say no. And SBAC scores basically only tell us the reading levels of the students. Which is useful information, but not as a determiner for how well SCHOOLS are performing. These data points tell us how GROUPS OF STUDENTS are performing. This is not one in the same. Keen Observer pointed out that Magnets and Charters should be compared, but did not explain why…..why?….because both groups of students self-select. Is it a wonder that students who self-select to attend certain schools perform better than the rest? Is there anyone out there that actually believes it is the curricular program of Magnets or Charters, or their teachers, that is the essential cause of the differences in scores/rates? You’ve got to drinking “Naivete” or “Hubris” flavored Kool-Aid to talk that talk.

    So, where from here? If you are serious about finding a good school for YOUR kid, save your money and buy in the right ZIP CODE (I hate to split hairs, but it’s actually the “good part of the right ZIP CODE” that you want, which is why it’s so much easier to use SBAC or the old API). Or do what other smart parents are doing and put your kid in a Chargnet. This should not be too tough to figure out.

    But if you are serious about making Public education in better for ALL, then recognize that Chargnets work to the detriment of those left behind in traditional schools, try to limit their expansion, or even better, advocate for closures, and then work to strengthen the traditional schools that we already have. This is a vexing challenge…in many ways we’ve been treading water for decades, although I would argue that considering the increased number of English Learners and students with disabilities, not to mention disadvantaged students, schools are doing better than ever. But as the culture and the economy have changed, we have come to attack schools as the illness….Chargnets have been a misguided remedy, allowing us to build safe havens for motivated families, point to their scores as the SCHOOLS’ success, not the simple result of cherry-picking the best students, and then turn around and demonize traditional as failures.

    Bad doctor!

    1. Elizabeth isralowitz says:

      Selection bias, you got it! Nerds in the house! You will never be able to compare traditional public schools to charters unless you take out the application and registration process and allow all those who live in that area including students with a range of abilities into charters. Then you have to control for class time since charter often make teachers work during lunch and after school. You also have to control for ALL resources present and coming into the school. This includes corporate money, money and resrouces/time from parents, and donations. The two groups are just.not comparable, how any studies get published on this topic is beyond me, the internal validity of such an analysis just isn’t there.

      1. School Data Nerd says:

        Hmmm, there’s a lot wrapped up in these replies. Let me address selection bias first. A significant number of Los Angeles High Schools in LAUSD do require an application and registration process. If you are in a zone of choice, they will have to apply to and attend a traditional public high school where the same kind of selection bias would occur. Many schools also have academies that also create miniature selection biases within schools. I also disagree that charters are more comparable to magnets because magnets are not done on a random lottery – they are given preference to students of certain races and certain locations – it is an integration program. Charters may get more resources from corporations, but they also have higher costs to run including the volatility of the commercial real estate market.
        Now, those who read this blog know that I am no defender of charters. But the data is clear – if a student is in a charter school, in Los Angeles they are 5% more likely to get accepted to a UC. Parents care about that. Students care about that. And I care about that because most of my students go to traditional LAUSD schools.

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