Even more so than just a few years ago, charter schools are likely to be newly created schools with small enrollments, according to a U.S. Department of Education report released last week.
The report is based on 678 responding charter schools in 23 states and the District of Columbia as of the 1997-98 school year. Currently, the fast-growing charter school movement has produced more than 1,000 charter schools in 27 states and the District of Columbia.
The federal report is the third installment in a four-year study of such public schools, which operate free of some state and local regulations in exchange for direct accountability for student results. (“More Parents Want Charters, Ed. Dept. Study Concludes,” Aug. 5, 1998.)
The median enrollment of charter schools in the study was 132 students. That compares with a median enrollment of 486 students in the regular public schools in the same states. In 1996-97, the median charter school enrollment was 149.
About 84 percent of charter schools in the 1997-98 school year were started from scratch, rather than being regular public schools that converted to charter status. In contrast, only 53 percent of charter schools open by the 1994-95 school year were created from scratch.
Last year, five states--Idaho, Missouri, New York, Virginia, and Utah--passed charter school laws.
Mix of Students Served
The demand for such schools remains high, the study found: Seven out of 10 charter schools reported having a waiting list.
Most charter schools said they used standardized tests to measure student achievement, but other methods include student demonstrations, portfolios, and performance assessments. To assess school progress, many schools use parent surveys, behavioral indicators, and student surveys.
The department’s upcoming reports will tackle broad policy issues, such as what impact charter schools have had on student achievement and on public education as a whole.
Some observers have expressed concern that charter schools would pull white and economically advantaged students from traditional public schools. But the department’s study found no evidence that charter schools disproportionately enroll such students.
Last year, 37 percent of charter school students were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals; 38 percent of students in all public schools in the same states were eligible.
In 14 states, the report says, charter schools served a “considerably” higher percentage of minority students than the public schools as a whole. In four states--Alaska, California, Colorado, and Georgia--charter schools enrolled a higher percentage of white students than public schools overall.
Enrollments of white students in more than 70 percent of charter schools studied were within 20 percent of the proportion of white students in their surrounding districts, according to the report.
A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 1999 edition of Education Week as Charters Likely To Be Newly Created, U.S. Report Finds