One of the controversies surrounding charter schools is whether these schools may either “cream skim” high-performing students from traditional public schools or “pushout” low-achieving students or students with discipline histories, leaving traditional public schools to educate the most challenging students. In this study, we use longitudinal statewide data from Tennessee and North Carolina and linear probability models to examine whether there is evidence consistent with these selective enrollment practices. Because school choice programs managed by districts (magnet and open enrollment programs) have a similar ability to cream skim and pushout students, we also examine these outcomes for these programs. Across the various school choice programs, magnet schools have the most evidence of cream skimming, but this might be expected as they often have selective admissions. For charter schools, we do not find patterns in the data consistent with cream skimming, but we do find evidence consistent with pushout behaviors based on discipline records. Finally, some have raised concerns that students may be pushed out near accountability test dates, but our results suggest no evidence consistent with this claim.
In the academic and policy debates over the merits of charter schools, two things are clear: First, they are here to stay and, second, their quality varies widely. Policy makers therefore need to understand how to design charter laws that promote the creation of high-performing schools. Crucial to this discussion is the charter authorizing process, which varies across the nation. In some states, authorizing power is held exclusively by local school districts, whereas other states allow a range of authorizers that may include not only local districts, but also nonprofit organizations, counties, higher educational institutions, or a state agency. In this paper we use individual student-level data from Ohio, which permits a wide range of organizations to authorize charter schools, to examine the relationship between type of authorizer and charter-school effectiveness as measured by students’ achievement trajectories.