Bruce Baker of Rutgers has found many examples of urban charter schools that cherrypick their students, leaving out the students who are costliest to educate and boasting of their success when they enroll notably more advantaged students than the local public schools.

He decided to do a similar check on the Princeton Charter School, located in an affluent township with many excellent private schools. What he found was a charter school that enrolled students with only the mildest disabilities than the public schools. In effect, what he learned was that:

Put bluntly, these figures show that the parent population of Princeton Charter is obligating the parents of much less advantaged children, including parents of children with special education needs, subsidize their preference to have a school more like the private day schools along Great Road.

While I’m still not entirely sure what to make of this… it does concern me.

It also ought to raise questions for leaders of private school alternatives in these communities. On balance, I’ve never seen the charter school movement as a particular competitive threat to private independent day schools, as charters have often been primarily urban, serving minority populations and employing “no excuses” strategies that most parents in leafy suburbs would not find palatable for their own children.

Urban charter schools have arguably taken their toll on urban catholic school enrollments, but that’s another story. But, to the extent that state charter policies permit the type of school establishment and segregation going on in Princeton, more an more parents may find ways to organize quasi-private-elite schools to serve their needs – effectively seeking taxpayer charity to support their country club preferences. This indeed may pose a threat to financially less well endowed private schools.

In a twisted sort of way, it’s rather like asking your local public parks department to pay for your membership to the local private country club – thus reducing the quality of services to others who really don’t have access to the country club (even if it proclaims it’s open to all comers).

Much more to ponder here… but the numbers on Princeton Charter School certainly raise some serious red flags.