Jack Schneider is an education historian who studies the arguments people make about schools, and host of an Education Week blog on that topic. Recently, he contended charter schools were harming the most disadvantaged students, and I took issue with that claim.
To his credit, he let me state the case, and I think the resulting exchange was fair.
He’s right that charter schools, by their nature, are going to draw students who have certain advantages (namely, parents who care enough about their education to actively seek other options). And the evidence he cites on “peer effects” raises a real issue for the school system as a whole. But I also think so-called cream-skimming isn’t inevitable:
There is a stereotype that low-income or disadvantaged families are less likely to be engaged in their children’s education, and therefore less likely to participate in school choice. Participation data from the Florida tax credit scholarship program (Disclosure: My employer helps administer this program)—which is open only to low-income families—suggest it’s not true. We’re seeing the opposite. Students who actually use the scholarships to attend private schools tend to be from families with even lower incomes than the overall pool of low-income families who qualify, and annual program evaluations show that tendency is getting stronger over time. Their test scores also tend to be lower than their peers. Yet their parents are engaged enough to actively choose to send them to other schools.
This is a means-tested private school choice program, so the experience of those parents might be different from those who enroll in charters. But there’s also evidence to suggest that school choice is fungible for at least some families. That is to say, some families who accept private school scholarships might just as well opt for charters, career academies, or other district-operated schools of choice when those are accessible to them.
It’s a long post, so check out the whole thing.
Schneider, meanwhile, takes issue with horse-race comparisons between public schools and charter schools, especially those that rely on narrow measures like test scores.