Charter school growth has modest impact on segregation


Charter school growth has modest impact on segregation
First national analysis reveals increase within districts, decrease across metro areas

July 16, 2019—Charters increase segregation within school districts, but tend to decrease segregation between districts in the same metropolitan area according to the first large-scale study of the effects of charters on school segregation in the United States. Study authors Tomas Monarrez (Urban Institute), Brian Kisida (University of Missouri), and Matthew Chingos (Urban Institute) report their findings in a new article for Education Next.

“Simply comparing the share of charter and traditional public schools that are racially isolated is insufficient, as charter schools are not spread evenly across the educational landscape,” say Monarrez, Kisida, and Chingos. Instead, they examine how the amount of segregation across all schools within a geographic area changes as charters enroll a greater share of students. To measure segregation, they use an indicator called the variance-ratio index that compares how segregated a system is relative to how segregated it could be, given the demographic mix of students in the area. Using the National Center for Educations’ Statistics Common Core of Data, they examine school enrollment by grade level, race and ethnicity, school type, and location from 1998 to 2015.

Among the key findings:

Charter enrollment is largely a reflection of location. Charter schools, on average, enroll higher proportions of black students than white students in elementary and middle schools, and tend to enroll higher proportions of Hispanic students in middle and high schools. These enrollment characteristics largely reflect their locations; charter elementary and middle schools are more likely to be located in census tracts with higher proportions of black residents, while charter middle and high schools are found in areas with higher proportions of Hispanic residents compared to white residents.

The average segregation of black and Hispanic students has remained stable over time. Relative measures of segregation reveal that the segregation of black and Hispanic students within school districts, cities, and counties has been stable over the past 15 years. The level of segregation across entire metropolitan areas has declined modestly since 2000.

Charter growth increases segregation of black and Hispanic students within school districts. The growth of charter schools has caused small increases in segregation for black and Hispanic students within school districts, cities, and counties. On average, charter growth accounts for roughly 5 percent of total segregation nationwide.

Across metropolitan areas, however, charter growth has not had a statistically significant effect on segregation. The effect of charter growth on the segregation of black and Hispanic students within school districts is offset by a decrease in segregation between school districts in the same metropolitan area, leaving total segregation across metropolitan areas largely unaffected.

Charter growth effects vary widely by state. Charter growth has notably increased the segregation of black and Hispanic students within school districts in states such as Louisiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island. However, in states such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, and Oregon, charters have had little or no effect on segregation.

Consistent results across methodologies. The researchers obtained similar results through a parallel analy­sis that employed the dissimilar­ity index, which measures the proportion of a group’s population who would have to change schools to reach an even distribu­tion across each school in the system. They also find similar results when examining the segregation of black students and Hispanic students separately.

“Our study shows that critics are incorrect when they say that charters are driving the resegregation of American schools,” say Monarrez, Kisida, and Chingos. “But it also shows that charter proponents are incorrect to assume that freeing public schools from neighborhood boundaries will necessarily enhance racial integration.”

To receive an embargoed copy of “Do Charter Schools Increase Segregation? First national analysis reveals a modest impact, depending on where you look” or to speak with the authors, please contact Jackie Kerstetter at The article will be available Wednesday, July 24 on and will appear in the Fall 2019 issue of Education Next, available in print on August 28, 2019.

About the Authors: Tomas Monarrez is a research associate in the Center on Education Data and Policy at the Urban Institute; Brian Kisida is assistant professor in the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri; and Matthew Chingos is vice president for education data and policy at the Urban Institute.

About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit

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