September 1, 2015

Arnold Danzig, (408) 924-3722,
William J. Mathis (802) 383-0058,
Daniel Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Think Twice reviews charter school program diversity report

Review finds little evidence to support claims

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Sept. 1, 2015) – A recent report from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) rates the diversity of charter school programs in 17 major cities.  The authors of the report advocate for the expansion and deregulation of charter schools since they provide greater program variety and, thus, respond to parental desires. However, an academic review finds that the report lacks any evidence to support its claims.

Arnold Danzig, San Jose State University, and William J. Mathis, University of Colorado Boulder, reviewed Measuring Diversity in Charter School Offerings by Michael McShane and Jenn Hatfield for the Think Twice think tank review project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The authors find small to moderate correlations between city demographics and certain types of charter schools. They also find that specialized charters tend to morph into homogenized general schools over time.

The reviewers found several weaknesses:

  1. The report claims charter schools provide greater program diversity, but fails to empirically compare charter offerings to traditional public school districts, which can also have diverse offerings;
  2. The report claims but does not address how charter schools are hamstrung by red tape; and
  3. The report's findings were based on website descriptions, which can be error-prone.

More specifically, the reviewers find that the correlations made in the report are weak, and relied on only 17 cases.  Ultimately, the report fails to support its major claims and is of little use to practitioners or policymakers.

The reviewers conclude, "Assuming we accept diversity of offerings as a primary policy goal, the report presents no evidence that charter schools do any better or worse than the current mix of public school alternatives."

Read the full review at:

Find the report on the web:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review can also be found on the NEPC website:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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