Do Parents Support Charter Schools Because They Perceive Them to Be Inequitable?

i love charter

Mike Goldstein posed this idea in the comments.*

Here’s some polling that supports Mike’s assertion. 

  • 70% of the public supports charters (note: this is insanely high for polling on anything).
  • 48% of the public believes that charters are not public schools.
  • 57% of the public believes that charters can charge tuition.
  • 68% of the public believes that charters can select students on the basis of ability.

In sum: the public loves charter schools, but a significant portion of the public believes that charter schools are private, cost money, and select their students.

As someone who has spent a lot of time trying to ensure equity in the nation’s first charter school district, this data troubles me.

 In New Orleans, we built a centralized enrollment, transfer, and expulsion system to ensure that charters schools were public in every sense of the word.

This is not to say that we eliminated all inequitable practices, but we made a real dent. And I believe New Orleans is a more equitable school system than perhaps any other urban public school system in the nation.

But what if the very reason many parents support charter schools is because they want these schools to be inequitable.

This is not irrational from an individual parent’s viewpoint. Parents might very well be drawn to schools where they believe low achieving students with behavioral issues are excluded.

All of this raises a serious question:

Will there be an inverse relationship between support for charter schools and the extent to which charter schools serve all students?

I hope not.


*To date, the comments on this blog have been great. Thanks to all those who have contributed.


6 thoughts on “Do Parents Support Charter Schools Because They Perceive Them to Be Inequitable?

  1. Fay Kname

    There are a number of parents in the large charter system in our area who want their child to be in the charter system rather than the local schools because they are a demographic enclave for those without the kinds of problems that limit their children’s education, e.g., multigenerational poverty, homelessness, etc.

    There need to be not blind, fair admissions to charters which in practice have led to overadmission of the most enthusiastic and informed, but admissions tied to their mission outside of places like NO where they have become the system – creating new opportunities for those who lack them. Admissions preferences for those who are at risk, and restrictive quotas for those who are not.

  2. Mike G

    Let’s see.

    Here in Boston:

    1. First, the wealthy residents enroll their kids in prep schools.
    2. Then the next tier move to the suburbs soon after having kids (or even pregnancy), primarily to avoid schools.
    3. Then the next tier navigates only the “exclusive” Boston public schools — the exam admission schools and the elementary schools that feed them.
    4. Then a working class group sends their kids to Catholic schools.

    Combined, I’d estimate that number as something like 80,000 k-12 kids at any given time. I’d estimate that those kids, on the state exams, would average the 65th percentile.

    After all those departures, that leaves about 55,000 kids in Boston, most of whom are poor and minority. Those kids, I’d argue, are “at high risk.” 40% chance of no high school diploma. 90+% risk of no college diploma. High risk of being poor at age 20, 25, 30.

    My guess is these kids, on state exams, would average the 25th percentile.

    Of those 55,000 kids:

    5. 3,000 avoid the traditional schools through a busing program called METCO. So a very fancy liberal suburb will “allow” exactly one black Boston student to be part of an elementary class of 20.
    6. 7,000 go to charter schools.
    7. 45,000 go to the open-admission schools and their elementary feeders.

    The charter and METCO kids? Probably the 30th percentile. Are they “at-risk” compared to the district schools? They’re slightly better off. Are they “at-risk” compared to the full group of parents, including 1, 2, 3 and 4 who could afford school choice? Obviously. Are they “at-risk” by any reasonable definition of arriving to school poor, and being on track to stay poor? Obviously.

    1. nkingsl

      Mike – good to hear from you (and thanks for inspiring this post).

      Tiering it like that really hits home how choice really works when the rules aren’t fair and supply is artificially constrained.



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