NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Measuring Diversity in Charter School Offerings

August 7, 2015

In 1990, there were zero charter schools in America. In the 2013­­-14 school year, 2.5 million students -- more than 5 percent of American public school children -- attended 6,440 charter schools, and those numbers are only increasing. Republicans and Democrats alike have embraced charter schools.

Two main reasons to support charters:

  • Charter schools will improve academic achievement by taking advantage of flexibility not afforded to traditional public schools
  • Deregulation will allow for more diverse schools than would otherwise be created. The academic achievement argument tends to get the most attention, but research strongly suggests that parents want more from schools than just high test scores.

Academic achievement is often the primary concern for low-income communities; thus, there are more no-excuses and STEM schools in poorer communities. But in wealthier communities, families have the luxury of looking for specialized options such as international and foreign language schools, therefore the positive relationship between city wealth and enrollment in such schools. The higher the percentage of black residents that a city has, the larger the enrollment in no-excuses schools. The poorer the city, the more likely it is to have specialized charter schools, and the more authorizers a city has, the more students it enrolls in specialized schools.

  • Part of the promise of charter schooling is that deregulation could allow for more diverse types of schools than would otherwise exist. Yet little attention has been paid to evaluating the diversity of the charter school market.
  • After coding every charter school in 17 different cities, there found an almost 50/50 split between "general" schools and "specialized" options such as STEM, art, no-excuses, or progressive schools.
  • There is an important differences in cities' charter school markets, which can be attributed in part to demographics, the age and market share of the charter sector, and the number and type of authorizers.

Source: Michael McShane and Jenn Hatfield, "Measuring diversity in charter school offerings," American Enterprise Institute, July 21, 2015.


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