Are Charter Schools Better at Matching Teacher Demographics and Training with Student Needs? The Role of Autonomy, Geography, and Economies of Scale

Jane Arnold Lincove
Event speaker

Jane Arnold Lincove, Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

164 Angell St., 2nd floor, Providence, RI 02906

We examine the efficiency of traditional school districts versus charter schools in providing students with teachers who meet their demographic and educational needs. Using panel data from the state of Michigan, we estimate the relationship between student enrollment of Black, Hispanic, special education, and English learner students and the presence of Black, Hispanic, SPED, and ESL teachers, testing whether this relationship differs at charter and traditional district-run schools. Because charter schools typically have more autonomy but less market power in hiring, we compare charter school employment practices to traditional public schools in districts of different sizes. Michigan offers an excellent setting to compare charter and traditional school hiring practices as there are both many charter schools and many small school districts with comparable total enrollment.

Our results suggest that charter schools are more likely to employ same race/ethnicity teachers for students of color than traditional districts with comparable numbers of students and teachers, with particularly large effects for Black students. Traditional public schools are more likely to employ at least one ESL certified teacher, but charter and traditional public schools have a similar response to additional English learners. Economies of scale offer an advantage to traditional schools only when student enrollment exceeds 12,000 students. These results are robust to estimation in highly competitive urban settings where most charter schools operate in competition with both large and small school districts. In a setting where teachers of color are scarce, parents of students of color might seek out charter schools to increase the likelihood of access to a same race/ethnicity teacher.