In this new report that analyzes Denver’s common-enrollment system (in N.J., Newark and Camden use similar systems) Winters finds that the most “effective way to boost disadvantaged students’ enrollment in charters is to make applying to them easier.”
Charter schools—public schools that have been granted significant administrative autonomy—have expanded rapidly. As of the 2011–12 school year, nearly 8 percent of students in American cities attended a charter. In some urban areas, charter enrollment rivals that of traditional district schools. As of 2013–14, there were 43 school districts in which at least 20 percent of students were enrolled in charters…
As charters have grown more popular, concern over ensuring equitable access for disadvantaged students has also grown, among friends as well as foes of charters. The president of New York City’s teachers’ union, for example, has argued that the state should not increase its cap on charters until charters serve similar proportions of disadvantaged students as district schools. Previously, New York State’s legislature revised its charter-school law to require that charter authorizers consider whether charters make satisfactory efforts to enroll and retain disadvantaged students.
Many observers assert that the primary driver for student-enrollment differences between charters and nearby district schools is that charters systematically “push out” low-performing or otherwise difficult-to-educate students, in order to inflate their test scores—and, thus, improve their position in school rankings. Empirical research suggests that such fears are, at the very least, greatly exaggerated. Indeed, recent studies find that low-performing students are just as likely to leave district schools as charters; and students with disabilities and those learning English are as likely, or less likely, to exit charters as district schools.