School & District Management

Analysis: In California, Charter School Students Most Likely to Be Unvaccinated

By Arianna Prothero — February 05, 2015 2 min read
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Charter and private school students in California are much more likely to have vaccine exemptions than students enrolled in a regular district schools, according to an analysis by a researcher at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Philip Cohen, a sociology professor, also found that low-income students were more likely to be vaccinated than their more affluent peers.

Vaccines, and exemptions from them, have been plunged back into the spotlight after a recent measles outbreak in California.

Cohen looked at vaccine exemption rates, specifically those based on parents’ personal beliefs, for kindergarteners from the 2014-15 school year from the California Department of Health as well as the free-lunch eligibility rates (the go-to measure of poverty in education) from the California Department of Education.

After running the numbers, Cohen found that the average charter school kindergartener’s classmates are five times more likely to have a vaccine exemption than those in a regular district school.

Charter school students are also three times more likely to be in a class where five percent or more of their classmates have an exemption.

Although private schools have fewer students with exemptions than charters, they still had significantly more than district schools.

Caveats Abound

Now to be clear, there are a LOT of caveats here. This is not the culmination of a big, long study, and Cohen says himself that he’s still tinkering with the data and that they may change.

However, this phenomenon, if you want to call it that, is not completely undocumented. A 2010 article in the journal for the American Academy of Pediatrics, which examined a 2008 measles outbreak in San Diego found that “substantial rates of intentional under vaccination occurred in public charter and private schools, as well as public schools in upper-socioeconomic areas.”

The Numbers by Sector

Cohen found in his analysis that the average exemption rate was 8.42 percent in charters, 5.12 percent in private schools, and 1.77 percent in traditional public schools.

That pattern continues when looking at schools where five percent or more of the student body has an exemption: Thirty-six percent of charter school kindergarteners attend a school where five percent or more of the student population has an exemption, compared to 30.4 percent of kindergarteners in private schools and 10.7 percent of those in district schools.

You can check out Cohen’s full analysis here.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.