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Study: Who is Going to North Carolina Charter Schools?

Photo: Research from Duke University finds that charter schools in North Carolina disproportionately benefit white students. Photo credit: jdurham/morguefile.com
Photo: Research from Duke University finds that charter schools in North Carolina disproportionately benefit white students. Photo credit: jdurham/morguefile.com
April 28, 2015

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - With the state lifting its cap on charter schools in recent years and 147 charter schools now open in North Carolina, new research from Duke University questions which students the schools are really benefitting.

Researcher Helen Ladd, a professor in Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy, found that white students account for more than 60 percent of the enrollment at charter schools. The trend, she said, is a result of typical human behavior.

"Parents often will look not only at the quality of the school's offering but at the mix of students in that school," she said, "so white parents naturally tend to prefer schools that have students like themselves, or like their own children."

Ladd and her colleagues recommended that the state require all charter schools to provide transportation and lunch services. That currently is not a requirement, and Ladd said it poses a barrier to less advantaged students.

In response to the study, the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association said public charter schools enroll a greater percentage of black students than do traditional schools in the state.

Charter schools receive public funding and in some cases are run by for-profit companies. Ladd said it's important that state lawmakers remember that one of the stated purposes of charter-school legislation in North Carolina was to provide more options to all students.

"Middle-class students have always had lots of choices. Their parents could move from one neighborhood to another, or one district to another, or could put their students in private schools," she said. "But low-income families often have not had those types of choices."

The Duke study found that of the 19 charter schools that opened from 2005 to 2012, 13 had white percentages higher than their corresponding district. Ladd added that the State Board of Education should strategically authorize charter schools that are in a location to serve disadvantaged students.

The research is online at nber.org.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC