A report by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Differences by Design?, compares differences in approaches and demographics between and among charter school models and local “traditional public schools.” Using three national data sets, the report effectively captures the national universe of charter schools. It empirically demonstrates that cream-skimming occurs and that charters segregate by income, special education, race and ethnicity, in that different demographic groups attend different types of charter schools. Charter schools, the authors contend, provide differentiated and “innovative schooling options” through varied academic models that cater to, and ultimately reflect, parental choices for their children. The resulting de facto segregation is presented as a benign byproduct of beneficial choices differentially associated with different racial and ethnic groups. They contend this is “in line with a properly functioning charter sector.” Unfortunately, the report does not demonstrate familiarity with the research on parent decision-making or with the extensive research suggesting that charter schools are not particularly innovative in the curricular or instructional options. Despite what the report claims, traditional public schools do, in fact, offer various academic model specializations like the ones offered by the charter schools. Ultimately, the report’s dismissive characterization of de facto segregation in charters, as a benign byproduct of parental choice, is at odds with the purpose and aims of equitable public education.
The 18th edition of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform draws on ratings from market-oriented advocacy groups to grade states in areas such as support for charter schools, availability of vouchers, and permissiveness for homeschooling. The authors contend that these grades are based on “high quality” research demonstrating that the policies for which they award high grades will improve education for all students. This review finds that, contrary to these claims, ALEC’s grades draw selectively from these advocacy groups to make claims that are not supported in the wider, peer-reviewed literature. In fact, the research ALEC highlights is quite shoddy and is unsuitable for supporting its recommendations. The authors’ claims of “a growing body of research” lacks citations; their grading system contradicts the testing data that they report; and their data on alternative teacher research is simply wrong. Overall, ALEC’s Report Card is grounded less in research than in ideological tenets, as reflected in the high grades it assigns to states with unproven and even disproven market-based policies. The report’s purpose appears to be more about shifting control of education to private interests than in improving education.
T. Jameson Brewer, Ph.D.
Educator, RESEARCHER, author