Self-selection is key to school success

Whenever standardized test scores are released, charter schools invariably outperform traditional public schools (“Charter Schools’ Success Is an Illusion,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 27).  That leads to further condemnation of the latter.

But the truth is that parental choice is the reason charter schools excel.  When parents apply for their child’s admission, it’s prima facie evidence that they are involved in their education.  It’s little wonder that charter schools post such impressive results.

In sharp contrast, traditional public schools remain the schools of last resort, legally required to enroll all who show up at their door regardless of ability, interest or motivation.  Moreover, they can’t be expelled except for the most egregious behavior.  Charter schools can and do push out students who for one reason or another are seen as a liability.

So before concluding that charter schools are inherently superior, we need to take a hard look at reality.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “Self-selection is key to school success”

  1. So true. Wish that the many charter school proponents would at least acknowledge this self-selection screen that guarantees the inner-city charters will enroll students whose parents are, on average, more concerned/functional than the parents of the students enrolled in the inner-city neighborhood schools.

    Likewise, I wish that a few inner-city school administrations would run the gold standard experiment of allowing/requiring a nationally-recognized charter school chain to takeover and operate one or more low-SES/low-test-score inner-city neighborhood schools while enrolling all the students who would have attended the school and only those students. KIPP tried this perhaps 10 years ago with a Denver middle school. KIPP ran the school for a few years, the test scores stayed low, and KIPP pulled the plug. To my knowledge, that is the only time that a major charter school chain (or any charter) has tried that experiment (or even asked to try the experiment).


  2. Labor Lawyer: I’ll bet that if Success Academy, which gets so much hype, were to be given the job of operating an inner-city school by the rules that govern that school, there would be little, if any, difference in outcomes. So much of charter school success is due to self-selection at work. When parents choose to enroll their children in charters, they signal that they are involved in their children’s education. Traditional public schools must enroll all who show up at their door regardless of motivation, ability or interest. They are the schools of last resort.


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