Goodall response to Dr. Helen Ladd report on charter "segmentation"

(See the abstract of the report here)


April 18, 2015
Helen F. Ladd Box 90245
Duke University 201 Science Drive
Durham, NC 27708

John B. Holbein
Sanford School of Public Policy 201 Science Drive
Durham NC 27708

Charles T. Clotfelter
Sanford Institute of Public Policy Duke University
Box 90245
Durham, NC 27708 and NBER

Dear Madam and Gentlemen:

I am the Executive Director of the NC Public Charter Schools Association and take expected interest in your work and particularly your report referenced above. I thank you for the research and for the Helen Laddresulting report which restates several points about the excellence in our public charter schools. Your findings will help us get the needed information to education policy makers, legislators, and the public, but especially to those parents, who often have misconceptions about our schools.

We are particularly pleased you approached your study by acknowledging that the public charter school movement and its schools “introduce a strong market element into public education.” A critical part of any market is demand, given the buyer’s element of “choice.” Parents have chosen to “buy” North Carolina charter education as evidenced by the 68,000 students in our schools and the 44,000 waiting at the schools’ doorsteps to get in.

Your report has three “market-related considerations.”

First, you write “that the state’s charter schools, which started out disproportionately serving minority students, have been serving an increasingly white student population over time.”Eddie 2014 Conference facing right
We know the charter statutes have always required the state to give preference to applicant schools that address students at risk of academic failure. It was expected that upon the birth of the charter movement in our state, the early charters would hopefully do exactly that. And they did. Regarding the “increasingly white student population” above you report the “white share of charter school students increased from 58.6 percent to 62.2 percent over the full period. That is 3.6 percentage point increase over a decade and a half.

Charters actually have 30% of their enrollment by African-American students versus 26% in district schools. Where NC charters have fallen behind is in the under-representation by Hispanic students, who historically have not attended charters in proportional numbers across the country.

Your second finding is the “quality of the match between parental preferences and the offering of the schools is in general higher for charter schools than for traditional public schools…” Further, you found that “parents with children in predominantly white schools are more satisfied than those in predominantly minority charter schools.” Your first point is evident on its face since charter parents are choosing each year to be where they are. The second is not surprising either. With generally lower academic achievement in high minority schools, it would follow that the caring and prudent parents would justifiably be less satisfied in varying degrees.

Your third finding is less than revealing- “now charter school students tend to have higher test score gains than those attending the traditional public schools.” You conclude, however, that the performance of the charters “may have as much or more to do with the trends in the types of students they are attracting than in improvements in the quality of the programs they offer.” You base your first point on your statement that in the “early years, the new students in charter schools tested at lower levels than their peers who remained in traditional public schools.” That is logical but drawing the conclusion in your second point about the student’s ability entering a charter vis a vis the performance of the charter’s educating that student, appears to be largely conjecture.

Your final statement that “charter schools in North Carolina have become segmented over time, with one segment increasingly serving the interests of middle class white families,” is hopefully not intended to imply a racial division within our charter sector. The reference to “one segment” has familiar undertones that have been recently silenced as the public itself has become more charter knowledgeable and sophisticated.

There are no “segments” in our community of schools. Our schools are diverse in every way but one- the homogeneous determination by parents of all classes to place the educational interest of their child first. I have spoken with parents in predominantly black and white charters about their school’s ethnic and racial makeup and they are quick to tell me that their charter was a better option for their child.

Charter enrollment of course mirrors those populations that live geographically closest and also mirrors the district schools closest to them. The vision for charters is not to emulate the district schools but to create something new or reformed- at least something that consumers, the parents want.

Charter accountability, both academic and financial, has been heightened by post-cap laws and policies not only geared to increase the quality of existing charters and new applicants, but also to weed out, and remove charters that are underperforming.

My solution is to see more charters started in North Carolina, including the replication of those performing at the highest levels. Then the market-related system you describe will naturally self-correct and produce fewer and fewer racial or socioeconomic-centric schools once charters are dispersed throughout enough communities of the state.

Every parent should have access to a high performing district or a high performing charter school, or both. That’s the target. Allow the market to work.

W. Edward Goodall, Jr.
Executive Director, NCPCSA
PO Box 78528
Charlotte, NC 28271