Advocates Use Data to Refute Common Charter Sector Myths
September 7, 2018

Across the nation, commonly perceived “myths” about how charter schools operate can make the work advocates do in their state capitols that much more difficult.

Recently, the Arizona Charter School Association (ACSA) used data from the Center for Student Achievement, an LLC of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, to push back against their opponents. The ACSA’s “Myth Busted” blog series counters some of the most common misunderstandings about the state’s charter sector.

Public Charter Schools Do Not “Cream” District Students

One of the most common myths hurled at charters, not just in Arizona but around the country, is that they “cream” students—or take the best of the best and leave the lowest-performing students in the traditional public schools. But according to the data, the students transferring from traditional district schools to charter schools actually are below the state average on state math and English test results. In fact, the data shows that if anyone is benefiting from summer transfers, it is the district schools.

Alternative Charter Schools are Not a “Last Resort” for Students

Alternative schools serve an at-risk student population, often students who have dropped out and are attempting to re-engage with school. This fact has led to the myth that alternative schools, 73 percent of which are charter schools, are a last resort for students. But the data presented a different story about this understanding of at-risk students, their choices, and the positive impact alternative schools have on the state. Of students transferring into alternative charter high schools, over 80 percent came from a traditional public school. In fact, 87 percent of ninth graders chose to enroll in alternative schools before ever stepping foot on a traditional high school campus. This view of alternative school enrollment tells a different story.

Charters in Competition with Districts for Students

Districts often blame charter schools for creating a competitive atmosphere where the traditional public schools are competing for students. And since Arizona is a strong public school choice state, where 17 percent of students are enrolled in a charter school, it is an easy target for this type of attack. But the data collected paints a different picture. The most significant factor impacting district enrollment came as a result of transfers between traditional district schools, with public charters accounting for less than 30 percent of the overall enrollment change. In other words, in the competition for student enrollment, districts are competing more with one another than they are with public charter schools.

Interested in learning more about the data behind Arizona’s charter school myths? Reach out.

Ryan Cantrell

Ryan is PIE Network's Senior Director, Charters, Choice, and Political Engagement

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