We are an independent, solution-oriented think tank at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy.Learn More.

Reinvigorating the Charter School Pipeline

The rapid growth of the charter school sector has slowed over recent years, as the schools have been swamped with criticism for everything from stringent discipline to a lack of diversity. To get a better sense of the trends, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers analyzed nearly 3,000 charter school applications submitted in 20 states from the 2013-14 school year to 2017-18.  The study, Reinvigorating the Pipeline: Insights into Proposed and Approved Charter Schools, provides several interesting findings.

The researchers looked at the types of schools approved and found that authorizers were more likely to give the green light to classical schools and less likely to sign off on single-sex institutions or arts schools. Amid criticism that charters exacerbate segregation, only 1 percent of the applications were for "diverse by design" schools; nearly two thirds of those won approval. The "No Excuses" model often associated with the charter movement represented just 10 percent of the applications in the five-year period. That dropped from 14 percent in 2013-14 to 7 percent in 2017-2018. More than half of those were approved during the entire period, but the approval rate declined significantly over the years.

The types of schools requested varied by state: In Washington, D.C., for instance, a third of the proposals were for a blended hybrid model, while Connecticut and Massachusetts had none.

The researchers also looked at who was applying to run charter schools: More than 55 percent of the applications in 2017-18 came from free-standing operators, up from 51 percent in 2013-14. The percentage of applications from nonprofit charter management organizations rose from 29 to 34 percent in the same period. The for-profit sector shrank, with applications from education management organizations dropping from 21 to 10 percent. That said, approval rates were lowest among the free-standing applicants. About 15 percent relied on philanthropic support.

Again, the trends differed by states. Florida, Ohio, Arizona, and North Carolina had significant numbers of for-profit applications, while six other states--Connecticut, D.C., Massachusetts, Missouri, New York and Texas--had none at all.

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.