(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Cato has new research out from Richard Buddin, examining where charter schools draw their students from. Adam Schaeffer offers a summary, emphasizing the dangers of charter schools: “On average, charter schools may marginally improve the public education system, but in the process they are wreaking havoc on private education.”
I agree with the basic premise: charters don’t fix the underlying injustice of government monopolizing education by providing “free” (i.e. free at the point of service, paid for by taxpayers) education, driving everyone else out of the education sector. As Jay and I have argued before, vouchers make the world safe for charters; that implies you can view charters as a response by the government to protect its monopoly against the disruptive threat of voucher legislation.
But what interests me more are the urban/suburban and elementary/secondary breakdowns of these data. It appears that charters are only substantially cutting into private schools in “highly urban” areas. In the suburbs, the charter school option is framed much more in terms of boutique specialty alternatives (schools for the arts, classical education, etc.) rather than “your school sucks, here’s one that works.” If you’d asked me, I would have guessed that would also cut heavily into the private school market – it would appeal to parents of high means who are looking for something out of the ordinary for their children, and that demographic would be most likely to already be in private schools. Yet the data show otherwise; apparently the families choosing boutique suburban charters weren’t much impressed with their private school options. And what’s up with this weird distribution on the elementary/secondary axis? Apparently public middle schools really stink in urban/suburban border areas.