Report Dismisses Stratification While Claiming Benefits of Charter Schools

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Key New NEPC Review Takeaway: New AEI report documents and then implicitly accepts demographic sorting as an outcome of school choice.

A new report by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) compares differences in approaches and demographics between and among charter school models and local “traditional public schools.” The report links varied models to stratified parental choices and then to correspondingly stratified student composition, concluding that these differences and stratification are either beneficial or benign.

T. Jameson Brewer of the University of North Georgia and Christopher Lubienski of Indiana University reviewed Differences by Design? Student Composition in Charter Schools with Different Academic Models for the Think Twice Think Tank Review Project at the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education.

Using three national data sets, the report effectively captures the universe of charter schools. It takes a separate look at enrollment demographics for different models: arts, no-excuses, progressive, credit-recovery, classical, single-sex, STEM, vocational, and international. It empirically demonstrates that different demographic groups attend different types of charter schools. The report documents this de facto segregation with regard to, among other categories, race and ethnicity, family income, and special education status.

Charter schools, the authors contend, provide differentiated and “innovative schooling options” through varied academic models that cater to, and ultimately reflect, parental choices for their children. The resulting stratification is presented as a benign byproduct of beneficial choices differentially associated with, e.g., different racial and ethnic groups. They contend this is “consistent with the theory behind charters” and “in line with a properly functioning charter sector.”

Unfortunately, the reviewers conclude, the report does not demonstrate familiarity with the research on parent decision-making or with the extensive research suggesting that charter schools are not particularly innovative in the curricular or instructional options. Despite what the report claims, traditional public schools do, in fact, offer various academic model specializations like the ones offered by the charter schools.

Finally, the reviewers express concern and disagreement with the report’s dismissive characterization of charters’ de facto segregation and stratification of students by other demographic characteristics, which they contend is at odds with the purpose and aims of equitable public education.

Find the review by T. Jameson Brewer and Christopher Lubienski at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-charters

Find Differences by Design? Student Composition in Charter Schools with Different Academic Models, by Jenn Hatfield & Nat Malkus, published by the American Enterprise Institute, at:
https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Differences-by-Design.pdf

Find Documents:
Press Release: nepc.info/node/8587
NEPC Review: nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-charters
Report Reviewed: http://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Differences-by-Design.pdf

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

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William J. Mathis

T. Jameson Brewer
University of North Georgia
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