k-12-ed

Unlike Their Neighbors: Charter School Student Composition Across States

The national debate over charter schools has been fueled by two competing narratives about the kinds of students charters serve. Opponents claim charters unfairly select the most advantaged students, draining resources from traditional public schools. Proponents paint a different picture, claiming many charters purposefully serve the most disadvantaged students who have languished in failing public schools. Both characterizations have some merit, but neither accurately describes charter schools writ large. As cataloged in a previous report, Differences on Balance, charter schools nationwide display a variety of balanced differences in student composition, compared with their neighboring public schools.

In some states, charter schools look much more like their opponents’ characterizations, serving far fewer historically disadvantaged students than their neighbors. Other states have charter sectors that look like charter proponents often suggest, serving more disadvantaged students.

Several states are on the extremes of this spectrum, but most fall somewhere in between, reflecting the diversity of not only charter schools but also charter sectors across states. These individual reports profile each state’s charter sector to promote a more nuanced national portrait of charters and a more informed discussion of state charter policy.

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