Charter schools are better, we just don’t want to admit it

I think the conventional wisdom on charter school evidence could be summed up thusly:  ”some charter schools appear to do very well, but on average charters do no better and no worse than public schools”. But I would like to propose a better conventional wisdom: “some charter schools appear to do very well, and on average charters do better at educating poor students and black students”. If the same evidence existed for some policy other than charter schools, I believe this would be the conventional wisdom.

It’s hard to imagine it another policy being called a failure because it only benefited poor students and black students but the overall scores were held down by non-urban schools and white students.

As a result, I think charter critics who draw on empirical research that compares outcomes are fighting a losing battle. The charter sector is outperforming public schools by some measures already, but more importantly they are getting better over time. I have little doubt that the next CREDO study will show charters making even more gains. Critics determined to oppose charters should start to pivot now, because they are standing on a leg that will give out eventually.

What’s odd is how often these facts go ignored. If the opposite were true, and charters served less minority or low-income students than public schools then it this would be trumpeted constantly and presented as perhaps the most important evidence in this debate. Or if charters showed strong positive results overall but didn’t benefit poor students or black students they would be condemned as institutions that further inequality. I’m not accusing anyone of conscious bias here, but I think if the empirical research on any other policy showed similar results that charters do for poor students and black students it would be far more widely embraced, and the average effects would be downplayed as less important.

Stephen By Stephen

About me


Professor and quant guy. Libertarian turned populist Republican. Trying to learn Japanese and play Spanish Baroque music on the ukulele.

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to my blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.