Exploring the consequences of charter school expansion in U.S. cities

Some communities look at claims of miraculous proficiency rates or heed reports of long waiting lists for charter schools and conclude that chartering is the way to go. But if the broad, long-term policy objective is to move toward the provision of a “system of great schools” that produces an equitable distribution of excellent (or at the very least adequate) educational opportunities for all children, chartering must pass a much more thoughtful examination.

Other reports have shown how high test scores and popularity of charter schools could be the byproducts of using data from cherry-picked charter schools that serve cherry-picked or culled populations. This report adds further insights for the debate on how expanding charter schools as a policy alternative achieves the broader goal. Specifically, it shows that charter expansion may increase inequity, introduce inefficiencies and redundancies, compromise financial stability, and introduce other objectionable distortions to the system that impede delivery of an equitable distribution of excellent or at least adequate education to all children. By shedding light on the risks of charter expansion, it provides elements for a decision-making process that weighs the costs against expected benefits. The report concludes with a checklist of items decision-makers must consider when evaluating charter expansion in their communities.