Improved Performance Leads to Increased Parental Demand for Charter Schools

If parents are given school choice, will they select the schools with the best sports teams and snazziest physical plants–or will they focus on academics?

James VanderHoff looked at charter schools in New Jersey to answer that question. Charter schools are public schools that supplement the traditional public school. For a variety of reasons, VanderHoff looked at not merely the attitudes of parents who have children in a charter school, but parents who want to get their children into a charter school, but can’t.

As it turns out, New Jersey is a good test case, since it is the only state to report on the wait lists at each charter school. Yes, there’s such a demand for charter schools–free, public schools–that many parents put their children on a waiting list.

“The value parents place on charter schools,” VanderHoff writes, which is “measured by the number of students on an admission wait lists, depends primarily on their academic effectiveness, measured by test scores.”

If a charter school increases its test scores by 10 percent, its waiting list will increase by 60 to 100 percent.

VanderHoff makes clear that not all charter schools are equal. Some do well, and others do not. Not surprisingly, “the research results on the effectiveness of such schools has been mixed.” So too has been the research on whether charter schools improve (through the force of competition for students) the performance of nearby traditional public schools.

You can read VanderHoff’s report (PDF) in the Fall 2008 issue of the Cato Journal.

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