The Black Charter School Effect: Black Students in American Charter Schools

Article excerpt

This literature analysis examines the experiences of Black students in public charter schools in the United States by analyzing the current literature and enrollment data in this domain. Through the investigation of multiple empirical studies that examine the effects of charter schools on the academic achievement and enrollment trends of Black students, the author introduces the concept of "The Black Charter School Effect." The Black Charter School Effect encompasses the ability of public charter schools to successfully attract, and in many cases, educate Black students. This analysis offers implications for policymakers to consider the redesign of state charter laws that impact urban communities.

Keywords: charter schools, African American students, best practices, charter school effect

The Black-White achievement gap, the gap in traditional measures of academic achievement between Blacks and Whites, has been debated and analyzed among scholars, legislators, and practitioners for decades. The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 was authorized to address the achievement gap. However, since its passage, the achievement gap has changed relatively little. The 2009 National Center for Education Statistics' (NCES) achievement gap statistical analysis, that reports on national achievement scores among fourth and eighth grade students, revealed, that in both mathematics and reading, White students scored on average 26 points higher than Black students (Vanneman et al., 2009)- only five points lower than when earlier studies were conducted (mathematics in 1 990 and reading in 1 992).

Countless authors have attempted to identify the causal factors associated with the achievement gap. Many have identified several influences that are school related such as low teacher expectations, lack of curriculum rigor, poor teacher training programs, lack of school resources, tracking, a lack of appreciation for Black culture, incompetent administration, and so forth (Delpit, 1995; Kozol, 2005; Ladson-Billings, 2009; Meier, 2002; Steele, 1992; Thompson, 2004). Conversely, other scholars have identified socioeconomic and home environment triggers such as a lack of time reading to children, lack of parental involvement, student apathy, lack of adequate healthcare, mobility, lack of affordable housing, and low socioeconomic status, as reasons Black students perform poorer than White students (Coleman, 1988; Rothstein, 2004). One group of researchers contends that a combination of factors such as student turnover rates, inexperienced teachers, and student racial composition, significantly contributes to the achievement gap (Hanushek & Rivkin, 2006).

Despite the lack of coherent agreement on what causes the achievement gap, the pervasive achievement disparity between Black and White students is directly tied to a relatively new phenomenon among Black families in this country today - public charter schools. Black families in America are seeking public charter schools in unprecedented numbers (Alliance, 201 la).

Nationally, Black students are choosing charter schools nearly double the rate that they are choosing traditional public schools. During the 2010-201 1 academic year, Black students accounted for roughly 1 6% of the national student population in traditional public schools, while in public charter schools they accounted for 29% of the student population (Alliance, 2011a). Studies have documented this phenomenon through both qualitative and quantitative analyses, and have presented differing outcomes for the effects of charter schools on Black student enrollment (Abdulkadiroglu et al., 2009; Bifolco & Ladd, 2006a, 2006b; Bodine et al., 2008; Booker, Zimmer, & Buddin, 2005; California Charter Schools Association, CCSA, 2008; Frankenberg & Lee, 2003; Hoxby, Murarka, & Kang, 2009; Zimmer & Buddin, 2005).

This analysis seeks to address the phenomenon and to paint a picture of the overall Black student experience in American charter schools by addressing the following questions:

* Why are Black families choosing public charter schools? …