How do the States Stack Up? Measuring What Matters in Charter School Ecosystems

(Guest Post by Matt Nielsen)

In June of 2021, Educational Freedom Institute released a report (EFI Charter Ecosystem Rankings, aka “ECER”) that took a unique approach to rating the charter school ecosystems in each state. While the approach was unique, it was nothing if not obvious: measure what matters.

Dr. Benjamin Scafidi and Dr. Eric Wearne of Kennesaw State University produced that initial report and have now followed it up with a more robust ranking system that includes an expanded set of measures and more recent data. Surprisingly, no other rating system devised to that point measured the outcomes that one might consider important—outcomes like student performance and accessibility.

ECER 2022 asks those two questions: “Do students have reasonable access to a charter school?”, and “Are the charter schools doing right by the students that attend?” 

Those two questions are asked in a couple of different ways to ensure we’re truly ‘measuring what matters’ in as comprehensive a manner as possible. The ranking system includes measures, as follows.

The answers to these questions produced a rank-ordering of each state that turned out much different from efforts by other organizations like NAPCS and NACSA. For readers who are familiar with the input-based ranking systems, the ECER 2022 results may be surprising:

Why was the report necessary when other ranking schemes exist? As Scafidi and Wearne note,

“On NACSA’s 2015 ranking for example, Alabama placed fourth in the country, while having 0 charter schools and 0 charter school students. NACSA noted that in 2015 Alabama “passed a new charter law in 2015 that is based on best practices in charter school policy” for context. Mississippi ranked 6th, with a then five-year-old charter school law, a single authorizer, and 0 open charter schools. Arizona placed 18th in the same analysis, with 15% of their public school students enrolled in charter schools, the highest percentage in the country, except for the District of Columbia, which finished two places ahead of Arizona and enrolled 44% of their students in charter schools.”

Policymakers need reliable reports that accurately portray the effects of their policies. Prior to June 2021, no such report existed for the charter school ecosystems in the United States.

Download the report here to read more about the methodology of the ranking system, and to compare ECER 2022’s rankings to NACSA and NAPCS’s efforts.

Questions or feedback on ECER 2022? Contact Matt Nielsen: matthew@efinstitute.org

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