Charter schools get a lot of hype in our nation's education debate, yet proponents of charter expansion consistently overlook serious issues with how these schools can selectively shape their student enrollment. A report from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) describes 12 practices that charter schools use to push out or discourage enrollment of students with special needs, those with low test scores, English learners, or students in poverty.
"The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment," by NEPC's Kevin Welner, highlights practices like targeted advertising to discourage English learners, imposing a daunting array of enrollment conditions, counseling out, and harsh discipline policies as methods for building a student body that isn't representative of the wider community and faces fewer out-of-school obstacles to learning.
These selective practices raise critical questions about equity and opportunity in charter schools and about the viability of charters as an effective or scalable reform policy:
"Charter school research is now sufficiently established and comprehensive enough that most researchers are comfortable concluding that a school's status as a charter school has no substantial effect – good or bad – on student test scores. But weak research and evaluation reports, which fail to account for all these ways of skewing enrollment, are nonetheless still being issues and trumpeted by advocates... This can result in masking undesirable practices and to making bad policy decisions
Finally, equity concerns arise whenever a publicly funded opportunity is provided to a more fortunate group of children but denied to others, even if that skimming takes place within a disadvantaged community. This gilds inequalities with socially acceptable language and constructs about individual choice, and it's particularly problematic when children are denied opportunities based on special needs status or English leaner status – or when the poorest children in a community are pushed aside."
What our national education system needs instead is a comprehensive reform strategy that focuses on providing universal early educaiton, fair school funding, wraparound services for students, supports for teachers, and positive discipline policies that keep students in school. You can learn more about this "supports-based reform" framework by reading this op-ed from Schott Foundation President and CEO John Jackson.
And download the full NEPC report here!