Do Charter Schools Threaten Public Education? Emerging Evidence from Fifteen Years of a Quasi-Market for Schooling

Governments increasingly rely on private entities to institute educa-tional reforms. This article examines the effects of the most significant of these market-based reforms: charter schools. As of the 2004–2005 school year, the United States boasted over three thousand charter schools, with state governments facing continued pressure to expand that number. Some critics, however, fear that charter schools pose a threat to the traditional public school system. Their central concern, generally re-ferred to as “cream-skimming,” is that the educational choice system created by charter schools privileges those students and parents whose race, class, or educational background afford them a better position to navigate the market for schools. This article will contend that the threat of cream-skimming currently appears unsubstantiated. Additionally, it will posit that charter schools may actually become allies with district schools, potentially aiding in efforts to increase educational funding. However, because the reforms are so new and the educational landscape is changing in so many ways, additional research is necessary to fully as-certain charter schools’ impact on the traditional public school system.

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