A recent article by Stephanie Simon in Reuters, highlights a number of charter schools that appear to be engaged in selective enrollment practices. If there are charter schools violating the state and local statutes governing admissions and enrollment, we want to know about it, the overseeing authorities should investigate, and the practices should be corrected. Procedures that place a burden on kids and parents who want to enroll in a charter school are contrary to the spirit of the charter school movement. While every charter school (or traditional public school) may not be the best educational setting for a particular child, charter school operators should not create high barriers to entry, and parents should be the ones to make the ultimate choices for their children.
But we should not lose sight of the proverbial forest amidst the trees. There are thousands of high-quality charter schools that admit students by lottery, they serve an extremely diverse population, and they produce high-achieving students. Let’s consider each of these points in more detail.
First, there are over 6,000 charters schools, in 40 States and DC, serving 2.3 million students. The majority of the schools are over-subscribed, meaning they have to rely on randomized lotteries for admissions. Last year, more than 600,000 students were not admitted to charter schools because they were not selected in these lotteries.
Second, the public charter school movement is predominantly opening schools in communities with high concentrations of low-income students of color and low-performing district schools, focused on closing the nation's persistent academic achievement gap. As a result, public charter schools across the nation enroll a greater percentage of low-income students than traditional public schools (46 percent versus 41 percent), black and Latino students (27 percent versus 15 percent and 26 percent versus 22 percent, respectively), and students who perform lower on standardized tests before transferring to public charter schools.
Third, students in charter schools are increasingly outperforming their traditional public school peers. This is not simply a function of charter schools skimming the best and the brightest from public schools. Randomized field tests show that students in charters outperform their peers who applied to a charter but were not chosen in the randomized lottery. In other words, regardless of the motivations of the families who are drawn to charter schools, these schools are able to raise the academic achievement of their students. They do this by stretching the school day and the school year, providing individualized student support, and by attracting teachers who are empowered to do what’s right by their students.
In an ideal world, every parent who wanted to send their child to a charter school would be able to do so. Perhaps unwittingly, the Reuters article underscores the popularity of charter schools and why more are needed. Indeed, that would be a great subject for another article, and we would welcome the opportunity to work with Ms. Simon on just such an article.