Keeping up with the Joneses: Charter Schools in Suburbia

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This weekend, the New York Times ran an article about proposed charter schools in suburban areas. While Fordham’sFlypaper blog comments on the choice and financial issues in the article, we’re taking on the “trendiness” issue in the article. The influx of charter schools in suburban areas is framed as such:

Now, educators and entrepreneurs are trying to bring the same principles of choice to places where schools generally succeed, typically by creating programs, called “boutique charters” by detractors...with intensive instruction in a particular area.

But the notion that charter schools are the new kid on the suburban block is false. The NAPCS Dashboard has data on the geographic location of every charter school operating throughout the country since the 1999-2000 academic year. And the data show that charter schools have had a steady presence in suburban areas.[1] The Dashboard data for the four most recent academic years show that the market share represented by charter schools in suburban areas has remained steadily between 21-22% (The highest market share for suburban charter schools was 26.5% in the 2002-03 academic year and the lowest was 21.1% during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 academic years).

The bottom line is that no matter their location or income level, parents want quality options for their children’s education. And instead of putting students into little boxes, suburban parents are, and for more than a decade have been, choosing charter schools.

Number of Charter Schools by Geographic Location*

Academic Year City Suburb Town Rural
Charter Schools 2,692 (54.7%) 1,039 (21.1%) 393 (8.0%) 979 (16.2%)  
Non-charter Schools 22,830 (24.5%) 25,770(27.7%) 13,404 (14.4%) 30,852 (30.5%)  
Charter Schools 2,553 (55.0%) 978 (21.1%) 362 (7.8%) 747 (16.1%)  
Non-charter Schools 22,772 (24.5%) 25,939(28.0%) 13,570 (14.6%) 30,518 (32.9%)  
Charter Schools 2,335 (54.3%) 946 (22.0%) 364 (8.5%) 653 (15.2%)  
Non-charter Schools 22,983 (24.9%) 26,028(28.2%) 13,740 (14.9%) 29,680 (32.1%)  
Charter Schools 2,148 (53.7%) 878 (21.9%) 348 (8.7%) 625 (15.6%)  
Non-charter Schools 22,797 (24.7%) 25,999(28.2%) 13,715 (14.9%) 29,661 (32.2%)  

*Geographic Location. The NAPCS Dashboard Data used the National Center for Education Statistic’s Common Core of Data to code the geographic location charter schools in our database. NAPCS collapsed the following categories to have four main categories: City: city, large; city, mid-size; city, small; Suburb: suburb, large; suburb, mid-size; suburb, small; Town: town, fringe; town, distant; town, remote; Rural: rural, fringe; rural, distant; rural, remote.

[1] It should be noted that the federal data used to populate the NAPCS Dashboard and used for statistics on suburban charter schools in the NYT article defines “suburban” based on distance from a city, not by connotation of income level.

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