The Michigan Charter School Research Project


The Education Policy Initiative at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy coordinates a rigorous, Michigan-wide analysis of the effect of charter schools on student performance and postsecondary schooling decisions, including college entry, choice, and completion. This project is led by Professors Susan Dynarski and Brian Jacob, Ford School faculty members with over 25 years combined experience coordinating large-scale education policy research and over 60 combined publications in the field of education.

Research Objectives / Goals / Questions

A number of prior studies have examined various issues surrounding charter schools in Michigan. This project extended the prior work in several important ways. First, it examined the full set of charter schools in Michigan through the 2011-2012 school year. Second, it not only examined how charter schools influence student achievement and high school graduation, but also how they impacted postsecondary enrollment and completion. Third, the project utilized the randomized lotteries that oversubscribed charter schools use to admit students in order to more accurately assess the true impact of charter schools. This approach was used successfully in Boston, New York City, Chicago and the state of Massachusetts to determine the effect of charter schools on student achievement. In both Boston and Massachusetts, Dynarski's research showed large, positive effects of charter schools on students' test scores. Finally, this project seeks to identify current charter school practices associated with success since little research in this area exists.


This is the first comprehensive analysis of all Michigan charter schools using the randomized lottery design, with the potential to influence decision-making at the school, district, and state levels. The charter schools greatly benefitted from participating in this project, since each school can ask for and receive a personalized report comparing its students on a variety of outcomes, including postsecondary, to students who applied but did not win access to its school. Charter school authorizers, education service providers, and state officials are the beneficiaries of cost-free, rigorous evaluations of all the schools. Finally, all stakeholders benefit from a better understanding of the specific practices that distinguish the most from the least effective charter schools.

Who is on the Project Team?

Susan Dynarski, co-principal investigator
Brian Jacob, co-principal investigator
Silvia Robles, postdoctoral fellow
Daniel Hubbard, graduate student research assistant


Estimating the Effects of a Large Network of Charter Schools Managed by a For-profit Operator

Susan Dynarski, Daniel Hubbard, Brian Jacob and Silvia Robles. 2018. "Estimating the Effects of a Large Network of Charter Schools Managed by a For-profit Operator"


In this paper, we leverage randomized admissions lotteries to estimate the impact of attending a National Heritage Academy (NHA) charter school. NHA is the fourth largest forprofit charter operator in the country, enrolling more than 56,000 students in 86 schools across 9 states. Unlike several of the other large for-profit companies that operate virtual charters, NHA only has standard bricks-and-mortar schools. Our estimates indicate that attending a NHA charter school for one additional year is associated with a 0.04 standard deviation increase in math achievement. Effects on other outcomes are smaller and not statistically significant. In contrast to most prior charter school research which find the largest benefits for low-income, underrepresented minorities in urban areas, the benefits of attending an NHA charter network are concentrated among non-poor students attending charter schools outside urban areas. To explore potential mechanisms, we leverage a survey which asked school administrators in traditional public and charter schools about a variety of school policies and practices within five domains: instruction, school culture, organization and leadership, teacher compensation, and time use.

[Download the working paper]

K-8 Choice in Michigan: Practices and Policies within Charter and Traditional Public Schools

Susan Dynarski, Brian Jacob and Mahima Mahadevan. 2016. "K-8 Choice in Michigan: Practices and Policies within Charter and Traditional Public Schools"


Many view public and charter schools as vastly different school settings, but research rarely compares charter schools to the traditional public schools that students would likely otherwise attend. What are the different policies that affect administrators and teachers between charter and public schools? How engaged are charter school parents? What would a charter school student’s educational experience be if he or she attended the neighborhood public school instead? Using the Education Policy Initiative’s Michigan School Practices Survey, we answer these questions in the Michigan context by looking at practices and policies at charter schools and their traditional public school counterparts.

[Download the working paper]

Appendix for the Michigan School Practices Survey

Susan Dynarski, Brian Jacob and Mahima Mahadevan. 2016. "Appendix for the Michigan School Practices Survey"

[Download the working paper]