Charter Regulation Keeps Out Minority Charter Operators

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My student, Ian Kingsbury, will be presenting a paper next week at the annual meeting of the Association for Education Finance and Policy examining factors that help explain which applications to operate charter schools are more likely to be approved.  He is still in the early stages of this project and I’m sure will benefit from feedback on how to improve the work, but he has already analyzed nearly 400 applications to operate charter schools in 7 states.  His basic findings, which seem unlikely to change as he gets feedback, should surprise no one but should shock everyone interested in charter schools — the more burdensome the regulatory environment for approving charters, the less likely charters led by minority applicants are to be approved by authorizers.

Using the score that the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) gives to each state’s charter policies as a proxy for regulation, Ian finds that for each 1 point increase in a state’s NACSA score (on a scale from 0 to 33), African-American and Hispanic-led charter applications are 1.7 percentage points less likely to be approved.  Given that one state included in the study has had a NACSA score as low as 9 and other states, like Indiana and Nevada, have a 33, the variation in regulatory environments Ian observed is associated with about a 41 percentage point difference in the probability that minority-led charter applications would be approved.

Of course, the charter regulations favored by NACSA, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, and most of the charter establishment are meant to promote quality.  Unfortunately, there is no evidence that these regulations are in fact associated with higher quality charter schools. But they clearly make it harder for charter applications to get approved, especially for minority-led charter applicants. Even when Ian controls for whether the minority-led charter applicants attended more selective colleges or were affiliated with CMOs/EMOs, which might be proxies for the quality of those applications, minority-led applicants were still 1.7 percentage points less likely to get approved for each 1 point increase in NACSA score.  In other words, if the purpose of regulations is quality control, those regulations still tend to keep out minority-led charter schools even after adjusting for reasonable proxies of the quality of those proposed charter schools.

This pattern of regulations in the name of quality posing a disproportionate barrier to minorities without actually being related to quality should sound familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the issue of occupational licensure.  A variety of groups, from the Obama White House to the Institute for Justice, have noted that raising requirements to enter many occupations has been an important barrier to opportunity, especially for disadvantaged groups.  Requiring people to spend 2,100 hours and about $22,000 to obtain a cosmetology license before they can braid hair has little to do with quality but is an important obstacle to opportunity.  The same can be said of the type of regulations favored by NACSA and the charter establishment — they have little to do with quality but seem to be large obstacles to minority operated charter schools.

Keeping out minority-led charter schools has potentially serious educational and political implications.  There is some evidence that minority students fare better when educators are of their same race/ethnicity.  Minority-led charter schools may be more likely to provide this type of educational benefit for minority students.  In addition, excluding minority leaders of charter schools severely damages the political prospects for charter schools by making minority community leaders significantly less invested in the growth and success of the charter sector.

If any of you will be at the Association for Education Finance and Policy conference next week, I would encourage you to stop by Ian’s panel on Thursday (March 15) at 10:15.  While Ian’s project is not finished, the evidence is becoming clear enough that NACSA and the rest of the charter establishment need to explain why the policies they favor have such a negative effect on minority-led charter schools.  And if they are going to defend that negative effect by claiming that the policies they favor promote quality, they need to provide evidence to support that claim.  The way it looks now, the types of regulations favored by NACSA and others seem to just keep minorities out without producing any increase in quality.

Update — I’ve added a link to the paper, which is available here.

16 Responses to Charter Regulation Keeps Out Minority Charter Operators

  1. Greg Forster says:

    Heavy government regulation serves the interests of the powerful at the expense of the marginalized?

    Who could possibly have foreseen it?

    If only someone had warned us!

  2. Is it legal to assign kids to a teacher with matching skin color? Or hire teachers to get a match in skin color?

    • Greg Forster says:

      That would be subject to state as well as federal laws, and state laws will vary considerably. Under federal law, my understanding is that this sort of thing is a gray area (so to speak) but I would defer to anyone with specific knowledge if they chime in.

      • I don’t know the answer, although I share Sandy’s skepticism about the legality (and wisdom) of explicit race-matching policies. Having minority-led charter options would make a potential educational benefit available for those who want it, without “assign[ing] kids to a teacher with matching skin color.”

      • Greg Forster says:

        Oh, I’d be equally skeptical of “matching,” but the question is what the law permits, and the law has been stretched to permit a lot of really bad ideas.

  3. Kristen Forbriger, NACSA says:

    Given the focus on NACSA here, we think it’s important to set the record straight on a few things for readers of Jay’s blog who may be less familiar with our work.

    First, all of NACSA’s current and past work – including the state policy recommendations referenced here – is about creating more outstanding charter schools, especially outstanding schools led by people of color. That’s why we have engaged in many activities just this year—from workshops promoting equity and access, to new research on the role of professional judgement in making merit-based decisions—to help facilitate the opening of more than 1,300 new quality charter schools over the next five years.

    That’s also why, frankly, we’re disturbed by the wholly inaccurate claim that any of our work would lead to fewer minority-run charter schools. Especially because the policy recommendations that we used to assess state laws during our One Million Lives Campaign deal very little with charter applications – in fact, more than 90% are unrelated to the approval process. You can read them in detail here:

    So that begs the question: How do NACSA’s policies “clearly make it harder for charter applications to get approved”? How does signing a contract with a school after it has been approved cause an authorizer to approve fewer minority-led schools? How does the existence of an alternative authorizer cause an authorizer to approve fewer minority-led schools? How do standards around closure cause an authorizer to approve fewer minority-led schools?

    We do need more helpful, evidence-informed thinking that can help expand access to good charter schools to more students. And the expansion of access will be sustained if more of it is done by and with communities of color. Unfortunately, the slander on this blog doesn’t contribute to this important work.

    NACSA is committed to reducing burdensome regulations, but let’s not confuse overregulation with quality control—especially when the evidence points to quality controls working for families and taxpayers. (Perhaps you might talk with your colleagues, likely down the hall at the University of Arkansas, who recently published a paper that finds Boston and Indianapolis—cities in states that previously scored near perfect on our policy ratings —are getting “more bang for less buck.”

    Although this misleading commentary does not help advance the cause of creating more great schools led by people of color, we are glad you have an interest in this topic. We at NACSA are very interested in engaging in real dialogue and strong research that explores the impact of things that happen before an applicant is approved, such as state and philanthropic financial support, funding for new school planning, access to facilities, or per-pupil funding… as well as authorizer practices and policies.

    Please reach out to me if you’re interested in learning more about our work or working together on these issues.

    • In what way is it “wholly inaccurate” to “claim that any of our work would lead to fewer minority-run charter schools?” Do you dispute Ian’s empirical findings that higher NACSA scores are associated with fewer minority-led charter schools?

      Your assertion that “more than 90% [of NACSA’s efforts] are unrelated to the approval process,” however, seems like a completely invented and false claim. In fact, one of NACSA’s 5 standards states: “A quality authorizer implements a comprehensive application process that… grants charters only to applicants who demonstrate strong capacity to establish and operate a quality charter school.”( ). I have no doubt that NACSA does not intend to produce barriers to the creation of minority-led charter schools, but in the name of quality control, those barriers are being created and they are having this undesired effect.

      • Greg Forster says:

        It is true that NACSA is ignoring Kingsbury’s data, Jay; but to be fair, we should also point out that Kingsbury completely ignores the fact that NACSA said abracadabra.

    • Greg Forster says:

      You are spreading lies! Among the regulations we support, the ones that are not related to charter school approvals are completely unrelated to charter school approvals!

      We are committed to dialogue. Please reach out to us when you’re ready to sit at our feet and be told what to think.

    • Ian Kingsbury says:

      A one point increase in NACSA score is associated with an approximately .6 percentage point penalty for African American and Hispanic applicants. I wonder then: If not the application process, what is it that NACSA advocates that is producing barriers?

      • bkisida says:

        Are these claims based on the -.017 coefficient on NACSA in table 4 of the paper?

      • Ian has run a more properly specified model with the full sample and an interaction term which shows that NACSA scores are not only associated with a lower likelihood of approval for all applications, but an even larger decrease for minority-led applicants. Unfortunately, that model is not in the paper yet. As I said, Ian is at the start of this project and needed the feedback for how to analyze and interpret the results. But the overall findings are pretty clear and are unlikely to change.

  4. bkisida says:

    So nothing in the paper posted actually supports the claim that the NACSA score affects minority candidates any more than it affects other candidates, and the number cited in the paper and above–the 1.7 percentage point hit–is merely known by restricting the sample to minority applicants. Yet when the sample is unrestricted, the overall hit is 1.5 percentage points and still significant. In other words, it appears to be about the same.

    You say Ian has run a “more properly specified model,” but a more accurate characterization is that he has (perhaps) subsequently run a properly specified model for the first time, as the original model was clearly improperly specified. I look forward to seeing the updated paper with the model specified properly. At a minimum this would include an interaction term and an adjustment for the 7 clusters.

    • Ian Kingsbury says:

      Here are the results from the model to which Jay alludes (LPM with errors clustered at the state level.) The coefficient of interest is NACSAscorePOC. The result is robust to all model specifications.

      • bkisida says:

        Thanks. It’s actually kind of blurry. Am I looking at a -0.005 (one half of one percent) with a p-value of 0.06 on the interaction term? So then breaking it all down, a 1 unit increase on NACSA score leads to a 1.4% lower probability of being approved for white applicants, and a 1.9% lower probability of being approved for nonwhite applicants. So the actual additional negative effect for minority candidates is 0.05%.

        Thanks for providing an update. I also couldn’t help but notice the coefficient on your variable for minority went from -.25 in table 3 to what appears to be -.06 here. Any idea why the general negative effect for minority applicants went away? Or am I seeing this wrong?

      • Brian Kisida says:

        Apologies, I should have said 0.5% at the end of my second paragraph.

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