Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Charter School Program Diversity Unproven

Program diversity has long been touted as an advantage of charter schooling. In a recent American Enterprise Institute report, authors Michael McShane and Jenn Hatfield advocate for the expansion and deregulation of charter schools on the basis that they provide greater variety and are more responsive to parental desires. The report, however, comes up short in providing evidence of greater program diversity or of over-regulation.

Arnold Danzig and William J. Mathis reviewed Measuring Diversity in Charter School Offerings 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. Find Danzig and Mathis’s review on the NEPC website at: http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-charter-diversity

By examining charter school websites, the report finds schools evenly split between Specialized (e.g., “no excuses” or STEM) and General. It finds small to moderate correlations between city demographics and certain types of charters but also finds that specialized schools tend to morph into homogenized general schools. In relying on the schools’ own websites, the authors admit that coding schools in this manner can be error-prone, yet no accuracy check of the data is used.

The reviewers found several additional weaknesses with the report. It claims the superior program diversity of charters but fails to empirically compare charter offerings with those of traditional public schools. It claims that charter schools are hampered by red tape, but again offers no evidence.

The correlations between charters and city demographics are based on only a sample of 17 cities, which provide a weak base for supporting the report’s conclusions. There are minimal citations, mostly to charter school advocacy organizations.

The reviewers conclude that the report is an advocacy piece with methodology problems that “render the report of little validity or utility.”

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