Brookings Hamilton Project to the Rescue on Charter Rankings

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Over the weekend I thought to myself- what if we just used the Hamilton Project’s Access map to rank state charter laws? The Hamilton map measures the percentage of students who have access to a charter school within their zip code. It’s not a perfect measure- some students after all have access to multiple charter schools within their zip codes and others nearby. The measure could be improved upon in theory, but let’s just run with it for a moment. What would a top 10 list look like?

  1. District of Columbia
  2. Arizona
  3. Utah
  4. Alaska
  5. Colorado
  6. New Mexico
  7. Florida
  8. Idaho
  9. Delaware
  10. Michigan

So a quick check finds only Alaska as a state with too few charter students to have made the NAEP sample in 2015. Alaska may be a bit of an anomaly due to the fact that half of the state’s population lives in a single city, meaning that a relatively small number of charter schools in a relatively small number of zip codes could cover a large percentage of the population in the Hamilton project.

So the Hamilton rankings have one state that has yet to produce enough charter students to make the NAEP sample in the top 10, while the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranking has six (Indiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Maine and Washington). There is some overlap between the lists (CO, DC and FL) but generally speaking the Hamilton list looks like flourishing charter sectors, while the NAPCS list is full of charter-light charter sectors.

Sector performance is an obsession of wonks, but is of limited significance to parents, who have every incentive to concern themselves more with the fit of individual schools for their child. Nevertheless, if we indulge the wonkiness for a moment, the Hamilton list looks pretty good on NAEP math- most having either high scores or high growth or both. Even number 10 ranked Michigan has this to hang their hat on:

I’ll take the actual Michigan charters over the largely unicorn charter schools of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Washington any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

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