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Massachusetts Charter Schools and Their Feeder Districts

A Demographic Analysis

Published Date : October 1, 2004
Author(s) : Adam Friedman

The Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy at MassINC today issued a report detailing the results of its recent study exploring the demographic profiles of charter schools in Massachusetts as compared to the districts from which they draw students. This analysis of student population data informs the ongoing debate on the funding, effectiveness, and possible expansion of charter schools.

The principal finding of the report Massachusetts Charter Schools & Their Feeder Districts: A Demographic Analysis is that charter schools across the state currently enroll more students in some population categories when compared to their feeder districts, but enroll fewer students in other categories. Specifically, the study shows that the charter schools serve proportionately more African American students than their feeder districts. However, charters proportionally serve fewer Hispanic, Asian, low-income, special education, and English language learning students than expected based on district demographic patterns. Both sets of divergence from feeder district demographics are more pronounced in charter schools in urban areas than in suburban and rural districts, where enrollment more closely mirrors local communities.

“Our goal for this study was to inform the charter school policy debate by shedding light on charter school enrollments in the state of Massachusetts,” said Paul Reville, executive director of The Rennie Center. “Because we understand the contentious nature of the issue, we have taken great pains to be rigorously objective in our methods and nonpartisan in our analysis. We use feeder districts as a point of comparison, although we recognize that there are reasons why charters might not be expected to mirror districts exactly.”

In addition to presenting statistical data on student demographics, the report includes a number of corollary findings relevant to public policy.

  • Many families need more information about the full range of school options available to them.
  • The majority of charter school students live in the neighborhoods where their schools are located. Thus, just as a regular public school in a given Boston neighborhood would not exactly mirror the demographic profile of the entire Boston Public School system, a charter would not either.
  • More than one third of the Commonwealth’s charter schools are located in Boston.
  • Charter schools currently serve less than 2 percent of the public school students in Massachusetts, but demand for charters exceeds current supply.
  • Recent state funding changes have now created a formula by which charter schools receive the same amount of state dollars per pupil as traditional districts.
“We believe that these data should lead policy makers to clarify expectations about whom charter schools should be serving in Massachusetts,” said the Rennie Center’s Paul Reville.

“There are implications for chartering authorities, district administrators, school leaders, and advocacy groups. Some of the facts in this report will challenge assumptions about who charter schools are serving and who they should be serving, and cause all of us to think long and hard about our goals for charter schools and how we can meet them.”

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