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Do Charter Schools Enroll More White Students? Depends on the State

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Wealthy or poor, black or white, native speaker or English-language learner—the types of students that enroll in charter schools vary greatly from state-to-state.

That's the conclusion of a new analysis by the American Enterprise Institute that compares charter schools to their neighboring traditional district schools in 22 states.

Whether charter schools are expanding or shrinking the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students is an argument that powers some of the most contentious debates over whether policymakers should be expanding these schools.

Among the most recent examples are the NAACP's decision to officially call for a ban on new charter schools, and a ballot question in Massachusetts on whether to lift a state cap on the number of charters allowed in the state.

Nat Malkus, who authored the report for the conservative think tank, writes that arguments for and against charters tend to fall into two buckets. While charter opponents say the schools select and retain only the most advantaged students in their schools, proponents argue that charter schools give poor and minority students a path out of failing district schools and, eventually, into college.

Malkus examined federal data and found there's truth to both characterizations, and that the makeup of charter students in many states doesn't neatly fit into either bucket. 

In the case of Ohio, charter schools there enroll far more poor and black students than their neighboring district schools. The reverse is true in North Carolina. 

An analysis by Education Week's research center from June—which took a different approach and looked only at state-level data—also found big differences in the makeup of charter schools among states.

You can read the full report, "Unlike Their Neighbors: Charter School Student Composition Across States," here, which includes individual state data.

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