Measuring Diversity in Charter School Offerings

Michael Q. McShane and Jenn Hatfield, American Enterprise Institute
21 Jul, 2015

There are two main reasons given to support charter schooling: (1) that charter schools will improve academic achievement by taking advantage of flexibility not afforded to traditional public schools; and (2) that 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.

So what do we know about the diversity of charter school options across the country? This paper offers the beginnings of an answer to that understudied question by coding 1,151 charter schools educating more than 471,000 students in 17 different cities. Looking at the number of schools and enrollment data for each type, several important findings were uncovered. They discovered that there is an almost exactly even split between general and specialized charter schools, with the most common types of specialized schools being no-excuses and progressive schools. They also found significant variation in the charter market between cities.