University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Posts Tagged ‘Charter Schools’

Stop Scapegoating: Educating kids should be the focus

In The View from the OEP on January 4, 2017 at 12:35 pm

In case you missed it- we wanted to share our Op-Ed from the paper this weekend about charter school enrollment in Little Rock.


img_3836The approved expansion of two Little Rock-area charter schools led many to express fears that charter schools skim off the easiest-to-educate students and leave “those other kids” for traditional schools. Specifically, concerns were raised that charters would decrease the white population of Little Rock School District and increase the district’s percentage of poor students.

We at the Office for Education Policy also care about the interactions between public charter schools and traditional public schools and decided to investigate what the data had to say about these questions. We examined student-level enrollment and academic data from the 2008-09 to 2014-15 school years. We tracked annual student moves to understand who leaves the Little Rock district for charters and how those moves impact racial and socioeconomic integration.

We found that students who left the district for charters were typical, both demographically and academically, and their exits increased racial and socioeconomic integration in the district.

As a reminder, charter schools are public schools. Like traditional public schools, there is no cost for students to attend. Unlike traditional public schools, to which students are assigned based on their address, open-enrollment charters are open to any student. Charters are authorized to serve a specific number of students, so students must apply for a seat. If more students want to attend than there are seats, students are selected through a random lottery. Students who are not selected can remain on a wait list. Charter schools cannot select or reject student applications based on demographic or academic characteristics. Charters must administer all state exams and abide by identical accountability requirements.

About 15 percent of students (excluding graduates) leave the Little Rock School District each year for some other schooling option. We were surprised to find that nearly half of these students (7 percent) leave the Arkansas public school system entirely–they move out of state, drop out, or select private or home school settings. Some (6 percent) move to other public school districts; half move nearby to the North Little Rock or Pulaski County districts, and half move to other public schools in the state. Perhaps surprisingly, given all of the attention given to charter transfers, only 2 percent (fewer than one of every seven who leave) of students transfer from the Little Rock district to charter schools each year!

What do we know about these students?

First, the 2 percent of students who transferred into area charters were representative of the district student population as a whole. Students who moved to charters were 64 percent black and 19 percent white, compared to the district population of 67 percent black and 20 percent white. Socioeconomically, 61 percent of students who moved to charters were eligible for free/reduced lunch, while 69 percent of district students participated. Students who left for area charters were not more likely to be white or economically advantaged than the overall district population.

Students who left for area charters performed similarly on state assessments as students who remained. In four of the six years examined, there were no statistically significant differences in scores between students who left for charters and those who remained in the district. However, students who left for charters were average performers in their school in all years examined. This finding refutes the argument that charters poach the best students.

Further, we found that when students exited the district for charters, the schools they left behind became less racially and/or socioeconomically segregated.

Our findings contradict critics’ concern that charters increase racial and socioeconomic segregation. One fact we must acknowledge is that Little Rock district schools are already racially and socioeconomically segregated. Thus, when students exit, they are most often leaving segregated settings. We found that black students who leave tend to exit schools with an above-average percentage of black students, and white students leave schools with an above-average percentage of white students.

Residential segregation in Little Rock, as in many other cities throughout the U.S., results in racial and socioeconomic segregation of residentially assigned public schools. Charter schools allow for students to enroll regardless of ZIP code. Little Rock families who choose to sever the link between where they live and the school that their children attend are countering the racial and socioeconomic segregation of traditional public schools.

Those who are passionate about equity should stop demonizing charters and chasing the false argument that charters cause segregation; instead, we should focus our collective energy on providing an affirming and effective learning environments for all Little Rock public school students–regardless of sector.

A wise school leader once said that “the students don’t care whether the sign outside the school says ‘Charter’ or not.” They simply need effective teachers who care about them and prepare them for the future.

Sarah C. McKenzie is the executive director of the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Elise Swanson is a research assistant at the Office for Education Policy and a distinguished doctoral fellow in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.

Editorial on 12/31/2016


Stanford Charter Schools Report: National Gains; Arkansas Decline

In The View from the OEP on June 25, 2013 at 10:17 am


Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a study today looking at charter school gains across the country, including right here in Arkansas.  This is the “most comprehensive study ever conducted of charter school performance,” with over one million charter students considered in the study.

The study finds that charter schools are making progress around the nation, on average.  The twenty-six state study showed significant gains in learning for impoverished students, black students, and English language learners in charter schools, as compared to their “virtual twins” in traditional public schools. To complement this growth, these three groups have seen their enrollment in charters shows increase over the course of this study, from 2009 to 2013.

Here at the OEP, we are more than glad that these types of rigorous studies are being done to look at innovative solutions to improve education across the country.  With growth or decline, it is important for this information to be seen by politicians and parents alike, so that all can make informed decisions about the future of education.

Concerning our charter schools here in Arkansas, the study shows that while there was growth in the 2008-09 year (in math and reading), Arkansas charters have seen a slight decline in scores during 2009-11.  One potential explanation for this slow-down is that these analyses include the scores of four low-performing charter schools, which have since been closed. While this does not explain away all of the decline, it does show the Arkansas reauthorization system for charters does have teeth to close schools that cannot meet the standards our state expects.

The OEP has testified about the performance of a few charter schools in Arkansas to the State Board of Education.  What makes this system work is that these schools are held accountable.

As the best schools endure, we all hope that Arkansas charter schools will shine bright in the coming years, and that all schools around state, traditional or charter or any kind, will continue to grow and meet the needs of our children.


Special note: We want to give a special “shout-out” to former OEP Graduate Researcher and Arkansas native Dr. James L. Woodworth who was one of the authors of this report.  We wish him all the best!