Charter Schools and Inequality
Early proponents of charter schools, over a decade ago argued that these human-scale organizations would help close the achievement gap. Liberated from downtown bureaucracy and voluminous state rules, charter schools would craft crisp educational missions, respond to diverse parents, and create tighter communities to strengthen motivation among students and teachers alike.
Underlying these hopeful claims is the assumption that charter schools can avoid the wide differences in financing, teacher quality, and student support that beset the nation’s disparate public schools. Unless charter enthusiasts can escape deep-seated structural constraints, these independent schools may reproduce stratified layers of student performance, just like garden-variety public schools. On the other hand, if charter educators can deliver on their promises of spirited community and effectiveness, they may raise children’s learning curves.
Only recently have national data become available to illuminate similarities and differences among charter schools. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) surveyed principals from a (weighted) sample 1,010 charter schools during the 1999–2000 school year, along with 2,847 teachers in the same schools. This represents 86% of all charter schools that were operating in the prior year. These survey data, released to research teams in fall 2002, also now allow comparison between charter and regular public schools.