Charter school myth: Cherry-picking charters

In 2014, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a report highlighting 21 myths that unpackaged everything from ideas that charter schools don’t enroll underserved children to being anti-union. The analysis also looked at the notion that charter schools are guilty of cherry-picking the community’s better students, educationally speaking.

This notion, also called “creaming,” as in taking the cream of the crop from public schools is a misnomer. So, where did this idea come from?

Charter schools use a variety of practices to enroll students from other schools and in nearby communities. After students enroll, charters may use placement tests to determine academic interest and to make decisions on student grade level assignments. As public schools they are required to take any students who wish to enroll, as long as the school has seat capacity. For high demand schools, admission is granted based on a school lottery.

“Students who enter a charter school are below state average on AzMERIT, but then they exit and are above,” Jake Logan, President and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association said. “By definition you’re not creaming the crop. The majority are below that average. Some of our high performing schools are huge assets in the state of Arizona. They give students an education that will put them on a trajectory for a lot of success.”

From math to reading, students in Arizona public charter schools have been known to do better on AzMERIT testing than those in district schools in nearly every grade level. That fact has been the fuel for speculation that public charter schools must be participating in unfair practices to pull from the top to boost their numbers and their finances.

The belief that these schools are only doing well and performing better than district schools because they cherry-pick the very best and brightest is, again, unfounded. The myth has been associated with the fallacy that charter schools are more homogenous than public schools, only letting in more affluent students with only sprinkles of underserved students.

“The demographics of our EAGLE schools reflect the communities in which we serve – racially, ethnically, linguistically, and socio-economically,” Steven Inman, Regional Executive Director, Arizona, Open Sky Education said. “This will continue within communities as we provide parents with the opportunity to select the educational options that are best for their children – be it homeschool, private school, public district school, or public charter school.”

As charter schools grow, they are becoming more and more diverse, and not just in ethnic backgrounds. Those with disabilities, such as physical and learning disabilities, are seeing more options as charter schools open and expand across the state. Arizona Autism Charter School is a prime example of a model designed to best meet student need and is meeting parent and student demand.

“Our goal is to have as many options that make sense for students as possible,” Logan said. “The majority choose districts, but you look at Maricopa County–a lot of students are using school choice, about 55%. I think that’s healthy to find the right education that’s going to work for your child.”

Nick Esquer

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