Category Archives: Choice

What can we learn from the most driven and knowledgeable public school parents?

This is the second blog post in a row about learning from experience and observation rather than research.

I sometimes anchor a bit too much on research and am trying to balance this mindset with a stronger observational approach.


One common critique of charter schools is that they draw the most driven knowledgeable families away from the traditional public school system.

According to this argument, we should be a bit suspicious of charter school test score gains, and we should be very worried that the remaining students left in the traditional system will include very high concentrations of at-risk students.

I think there is some merit to the first critique of inflated test score effects, but there’s enough positive results from randomized controlled experiments of high-performing charter schools that I’m not too worried about it.

I do worry a lot about concentrating the hardest to reach students in a smaller and smaller number of traditional schools. This definitely occurred in New Orleans, where the last 20% of charter students were much harder to serve than the first 20%.

My hope is that this issue can be somewhat ameliorated by cities directly replacing their most underperforming schools and using unified enrollment systems to make finding a better school easier for all families.


But there is something odd about critiquing charter schools based on the fact that they attract the most driven and knowledgeable parents.

Charter detractors are basically admitting that the more parents know the more likely they are to want to attend a charter school.

This is a strong argument for charter schools.

It would be useful to better understand why the most driven and knowledgeable parents are so drawn to charter schools. Is it because of increased test scores? A hope for better peers effects? Are they simply running away from something that is not working for their kid?

I’m not sure. The emerging research coming out of unified enrollment systems is helpful on this front, but it’s all correlational, so we should be cautious.

But the fact that the most driven and knowledgeable parents are seeking out charter schools increases my belief that charter schools are a positive force for families.

Sometimes simply watching what people do is a great way to learn.