A new paper by scholars Helen F. Ladd, Charles T. Clotfelder, and John B. Holbein analyzes the charter school sector in North Carolina. The group give a brief history of charter schools in the state, which were capped at 100 until Race to the Top encouraged the Legislature to remove the cap altogether. As they show, the original charter schools enrolled mainly black students. As the sector grew, however, especially in the recent period, the charter sector has been increasingly segregated by race. It now enrolls more white students than black students. The test scores of entering students are higher than in the past.
As the authors summarize:
Taken together, our findings imply that the charter schools in North Carolina are increasingly serving the interests of relatively able white students in racially imbalanced schools.
It is indeed an irony that a policy fostered by the Obama administration (Race to the Top) has encouraged the growth of segregation, which appears to be a predictable result of market-based education. The policies of Race to the Top in this respect reinforce the preferences of the far-right political forces that gained control of the North Carolina legislature and governorship in 2010.
Even more troublesome is the effect of charters on the public school systems of the state, which continue to enroll the overwhelming majority of students.
As of 2014, charter school students accounted for 3.6 percent of all public schools students in the state, with the percentage of K-8 students (4.2%) being twice that of 9th to 12th grade students (2.1%). Although the overall percentages are low, they are far higher in some of the urban districts—currently, charter school students account for 15.1% of all students in Durham, 4.7% in Winston-Salem, 6.1% in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and 4.9% in Wake County Schools.
The authors write:
In this paper, we have said nothing about how the growth of charters in particular districts is likely to affect the ability of those districts to provide quality schooling to the children in the traditional public schools. That issue is currently an urgent concern in Durham County, for example, where the rapid growth of charters has not only increased racial segregation, but also has imposed significant financial burdens on the school district. One recent study found that the net cost to the Durham Public Schools could be as high as $2,000 per student enrolled in a charter school, although the precise amount differs based on the assumptions (Troutman, 2014). Major contributors to this burden are the fact that the charter schools serve far lower proportions of expensive-to-educate children than the traditional public schools and that the district cannot reduce its spending in line with the loss of students because of its fixed costs. In ongoing research we plan to investigate further the evolving financial and other implications of charter schools on districts’ traditional public schools.