We are pleased that the authors of the Civil Rights Project (CRP) report on racial segregation in charter schools have chosen to respond to our reanalysis of the 2007-08 data. This dialogue is important as we attempt to move toward the most appropriate analytic strategies for this question. Indeed, the CRP response begins by highlighting the continued significance of school segregation and highlights the benefits of integration (of all sorts) for students. We completely agree with the CRP authors on this point. However, we take issue with three points made (or not made) in the CRP response.
1. Methodological differences
2. Characterization of the RAND study
3. Neglecting to consider our concluding points
Our primary criticism of the CRP methodology was the following, taken word for word from our article:
In every case, whether the authors examine the numbers at the national, state, or metropolitan level, they compare the racial composition of all charter schools to that of all traditional public schools.
We believe that these comparisons may well generate misleading conclusions because charter schools are not sprinkled across the nation randomly. Rather, charters are disproportionately opened in disadvantaged urban areas where families and students need additional educational options.
Appropriately, the CRP response begins by defending the methodology of its analysis. Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the analysis, it is important to note that the CRP authors do not offer any rebuttal to the criticisms we made concerning their use of national and state comparisons. This is in spite of the fact that the national and state-level comparisons were central components of the report. Every statistic in their executive summary and in the accompanying press release came from the national and regional comparisons. Perhaps both we and the CRP authors agree that we cannot infer anything from the comparisons made at such high levels of aggregation.
In our re-analysis published in Education Next, we focused most of our efforts reanalyzing the CRP analysis comparing charter and traditional public schools at the CBSA level –the Core-Based Statistical Area that the Census Bureau uses to define a metropolitan area. It is our view that this analytic strategy was the most appropriate strategy used in the CRP report, but as we show, even it generates misleading conclusions.
The CRP authors defend their analytic choices and criticize our reanalysis by making two claims. First, they argue that, because charter schools are not constrained by district boundaries, the metropolitan area represents the proper point of comparison. Second, they assert that the original report includes an analysis (Table 22) restricted only to cities which serves to confirm their findings. We disagree on both counts. In the paragraphs that follow, we will show that our central cities approach provides a far more appropriate unit of comparison, and we will demonstrate that the CRP Table 22 examining data for cities across the nation is off base.