Study Shows that Charter Schools Have Positive Impact on Public School Practices in Major Urban Areas

August 20, 2013

by Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

[Madison, Wisc…] Competition from charter schools is positively affecting the way that traditional public schools are being run. Work in these schools has led to K-12 innovation across the educational sector in fields like efficiency, expanding course offerings, collaboration between schools, and partnering with community stakeholders.

A recent study by Marc Holley, Anna Egalite, and Martin Lueken suggests that charter schools have helped spur innovation not only in their own classrooms, but also across the public school sector. According to those authors, traditional public schools in urban districts have adopted some charter ideals – like engaging parents by marketing their schools, increasing the courses and subjects they offer, and replicating charter school practices – in order to retain and attract students. As a result, the traditional public schools in these districts offer a more diverse blend of educational curricula than schools that aren’t affected by this competition.

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This suggests that charter schools, which educated more than two million students in America last year, are having a significant effect that reaches beyond their own classrooms. The competitive effect that Milton Friedman had once hypothesized about between voucher-receiving private schools and traditional public schools has spread to this alternative offshoot of the public school system. As a result, urban districts with a high percentage of low-income students are learning from charter experiences to create a more comprehensive learning environment for the children that live in their cities.

However, not all the impacts between the two types of school were positive. Holley’s study showed that charter schools in Atlanta – where these schools make up just eight percent of the student market share – had negative effects in terms of legal obstacles, denying student applications, and delaying payments to charter schools. In Indianapolis, the presence of these schools led traditional K-12 institutions to block charters from public facilities and withhold information to make various bureaucratic processes more difficult for schools that threatened to educate their students.

Even with the drawbacks, Holley and company’s study shows a net benefit for students in urban areas where charter schools have been introduced. This benefit appears to have a stronger effect in cities with a greater charter presence than those with fewer of these schools. That’s a good sign for Milwaukee, a city that shares many of the characteristics of these schools, as well as the state’s largest collection of instrumentality and independent charter programs.

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