How Charter Schools Are Changing Public Education

Mar 6, 2013

Seventy new charter schools have applied to become part of North Carolina’s growing population of alternative public schools. For the longest time, the number of charter schools in the state was capped at 100, but lawmakers changed that back in 2011.

“The cap is gone now. Never to return most likely,” said WUNC Education Reporter Dave Dewitt on The State of Things. “So there are going to be a lot more charter schools."

Some worry that the increase could have negative consequences for the state’s education system. Helen Ladd, a professor of public policy studies and economics at Duke University, helped conduct research into diversity in North Carolina schools. Her team released new research in a recent report. It found that charter schools are more likely than normal public schools to have racially homogenous populations — mostly white or mostly African American, for instance.

“That shouldn't surprise you,” she told host Frank Stasio. “Charter schools are schools of choice."

Since charter schools are often alternatives to traditional public schools, students aren’t forced to attend. Rather, interested families have the ability to opt in. Barry Smith, an associate editor with the Carolina Journal, a publication of the John Locke Foundation, said that giving parents a choice is a safeguard in case a charter school doesn’t meet adequate educational standards.

"If they go there and they're not serving their children, they can pluck them out," he said.

Success is not a foregone conclusion for the 70 charter schools vying for existence. The State Board of Education has the final say.