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Charter Schools

Charter Schools: Hope or Hype?

Jack Buckley
Mark Schneider
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Charter Schools
    Book Description:

    Over the past several years, privately run, publicly funded charter schools have been sold to the American public as an education alternative promising better student achievement, greater parent satisfaction, and more vibrant school communities. But are charter schools delivering on their promise? Or are they just hype as critics contend, a costly experiment that is bleeding tax dollars from public schools? In this book, Jack Buckley and Mark Schneider tackle these questions about one of the thorniest policy reforms in the nation today.

    Using an exceptionally rigorous research approach, the authors investigate charter schools in Washington, D.C., carefully examining school data going back more than a decade, interpreting scores of interviews with parents, students, and teachers, and meticulously measuring how charter schools perform compared to traditional public schools. Their conclusions are sobering.

    Buckley and Schneider show that charter-school students are not outperforming students in traditional public schools, that the quality of charter-school education varies widely from school to school, and that parent enthusiasm for charter schools starts out strong but fades over time. And they argue that while charter schools may meet the most basic test of sound public policy--they do no harm--the evidence suggests they all too often fall short of advocates' claims.

    With the future of charter schools--and perhaps public education as a whole--hanging in the balance, this book supports the case for holding charter schools more accountable and brings us considerably nearer to resolving this contentious debate.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3185-2
    Subjects: Education, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    In the United States today, many different education reforms compete for the attention of political leaders, policy makers, parents, and school officials. Charter schools constitute one of the most widespread and important of these. Since Minnesota passed the first charter-school law in 1991, forty-two states, including the District of Columbia, have passed similar legislation, and thirty-seven of these have operating charter schools (WestEd 2003, 1). As of April 2006, there were over 3,500 charter schools serving over 1 million students nationwide (Center for Education Reform 2006),¹ up from only 100 schools in 1995 (Research Policy Practice International 2001).

    There are...

  7. 2 The Evolution of Charter-School Choice in the District of Columbia
    (pp. 22-43)

    The themes we explore in this book are fundamental to the study of charter schools and school choice in general. However, empirical research is conducted in specific locales and often based on samples drawn from a defined population. The challenge is to identify trends and patterns based on the empirical data drawn from a particular milieu and balance conclusions based on such observations with the inevitable desire to make broader statements. We recognize this temptation and we try hard not to “overgeneralize” from our data.

    Thus, as the reader will discover, our empirical evidence is drawn from Washington, D.C., but...

  8. 3 The Panel Study
    (pp. 44-76)

    In this book, we use two main sources of data to study choice behavior and charter schools. One dataset, which we describe in chapter 5, is a record of the characteristics and electronic search behavior of parents using an Internet site,, that we created to help parents shop for schools. In this chapter, we describe the other major source of data, a four-wave panel survey in which we interviewed at four separate times a sample of Washington, D.C. parents with children either in the charter schools or in the traditional public schools.¹ In the last two waves, we interviewed...

  9. 4 Are Charter-School Students Harder to Educate than Those in the Traditional Public Schools?
    (pp. 77-97)

    In this chapter we begin our in-depth empirical investigations of the issues we have presented in the first three chapters. Here, we investigate further the extent to which the families and students in charter schools are different than those in traditional public schools—the point upon which we ended chapter 2. In this chapter, we investigate the extent to which charter-school students may be easier or harder to educate than students who have remained in traditional public schools.

    For many involved in the school-choice debate, the ultimate test of a reform is whether or not the academic achievement of students...

  10. 5 Shopping for Schools on the Internet Using
    (pp. 98-114)

    Social scientists have considerable experience with telephone surveys—and as noted earlier, we use survey data in this book. However, the revolution in information technology that blossomed in the mid- to late-1990s created many new tools for research, and here we use such technology as another window into how parents make decisions about schools. Specifically, we use data gathered from a school-choice web site we constructed to help further our understanding of how parents go about choosing schools. In this chapter, we describe that website. In the next section of the book, we explore some of the data generated by...

  11. 6 What Do Parents Want from Schools? It Depends on How You Ask
    (pp. 115-133)

    Ranging from the expansion of inter- and intradistrict choice to the rapid diffusion of charter schools and including the hotly contested spread of vouchers, the opportunities for parents to choose their children’s schools continue to grow. As choice has proliferated, researchers have increasingly focused on the role of parents as “citizen/consumers” and studied how parent-choice behavior will affect schools under more marketlike schooling arrangements (see, e.g., Chubb and Moe 1990; Smith and Meier 1995; Henig 1996; Schneider, Teske, and Marschall 2000; Moe 2001; Howell and Peterson 2002).

    While many dimensions of parent-choice behavior have been analyzed, one of the most...

  12. 7 School Choice and the Importance of Parental Information
    (pp. 134-150)

    One of the central battlegrounds in the fight over school choice is information: Who has it? Who uses it? To what effect? In this chapter we review some of the relevant theories regarding how individuals gather and use information about politics, public goods, and schools. This sets the background for the analysis we present in the next chapter, where we explore how parents gather and use information about schools using data from our web site, in chapter 5).

    The arguments over choice have taken on many dimensions but, at their core, many rest on the link between choice...

  13. 8 How Do Parents Access and Process Information about Schools?
    (pp. 151-169)

    In this chapter we use data from our Internet site,, to learn more about how parents search for information about schools. To explore this issue, we merge insights from the marginal-consumer perspective developed in the last chapter with insights from decision theory, which we outline in the following pages.

    In the past fifty years there has been a great deal of interdisciplinary scholarship concerned with the processes of judgment and decision making, producing well over a dozen distinct theoretical approaches.¹ Beach and Mitchell (1998) divide these competing theories of decision analysis into three major categories:normative models,behavioral-decision theory,...

  14. 9 Satisfaction with Schools
    (pp. 170-204)

    From the market standpoint, the foundation upon which so much of the argument for school choice rests, people who can choose should choose things they think best meet their needs. In turn, they should be more satisfied with them. By extension, parents who choose their children’s schools should be more satisfied than parents who do not.

    In this chapter, we begin our empirical investigation of the effects of charter schools using the survey data described in chapter 3. Here we look at the extent to which parents and students are satisfied with their schools. While we have panel data—repeated...

  15. 10 Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Parental Satisfaction over Time
    (pp. 205-219)

    In the previous chapter, we used our survey data to identify differences in parental satisfaction with charter schools compared to the satisfaction experienced by parents’ counterparts in traditional public schools. Using a variety of methods, we found that charter parents are more satisfied with their schools on many important dimensions, even after controlling for bias caused by self-selection and “rose-colored glasses.” A centerpiece of our approach was a study that used matched pairs of charter and DCPS parents to examine the treatment effect of charter enrollment and test for the sensitivity of the results to confounding unobserved covariates. This method...

  16. 11 Building Social Capital in the Nation’s Capital: Can School Choice Build a Foundation for Cooperative Behavior?
    (pp. 220-244)

    A recurrent theme in policy studies links the structure and performance of public institutions to citizens’ attitudes toward government and their willingness to participate in politics and the policy process. Ostrom (1998) argues that identifying the ways that government institutions can be designed to encourage cooperative behavior is one of the central issues in contemporary political science (also see Lubell et al. 2002). However, the literature on social capital portrays a decline in cooperative attitudes and behavior (Putnam 1995, 2000) and questions the extent to which government can nurture them (see especially Fukuyama 1995).

    In this chapter, we focus on...

  17. 12 Do Charter Schools Promote Citizenship among Students?
    (pp. 245-266)

    The “common-school” movement of the 1840s placed public schools center stage as the most important provider of civic education in the United States. While the leaders of this movement, “school men” like Horace Mann and Henry Barnard, had a variety of goals for public education (Goldin and Katz 2003), the influx of immigrants to the nation in the second half of the nineteenth century created a perceived need to socialize the newcomers to American values and made citizenship education a central task of the public-school system (Perkinson 1991). Over a century later, schools continue to be seen as important in...

  18. 13 Charter Schools: Hype or Hope?
    (pp. 267-285)

    Charter schools have become a mainstay of education reform in the United States. There are now over one million students attending over 3,300 charter schools in the vast majority of states throughout the nation. In many states, the number of students enrolled in charter schools is substantial. Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and Texas have over 80,000 charter-school students and California tops the list with over 219,000.¹ Charter schools continue to attract the attention of scholars and policy makers, many of whom support charter schools fervently, and many of whom oppose charter schools with equal passion.

    The mantra of today’s world of...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 287-304)
    (pp. 305-334)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 335-343)