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Small Districts in Big Trouble: How Four Arizona School Systems Responded to Charter Competition

by Frederick Hess, Robert Maranto & Scott Milliman - 2001

How do district schools respond to competition from charter schools? To explore this question, we examine four small Arizona school districts which lost from a tenth to a third of enrollment to charter schools in a short time period. Districts lost market share to charter schools because they did not satisfy significant constituencies, thus providing demands for education alternatives. District responses to market pressure depend on overall enrollment trends, the quality of the charter competition, the quality of district leadership, and the size of the district. Districts respond to competition in various ways, including reforming curricula, changing leadership, vilifying charter competitors, and attempting to absorb those competitors. Responses suggest that competition improves schools, but that markets do not work quickly or without friction and must be understood in context.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 103 Number 6, 2001, p. 1102-1124
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10830, Date Accessed: 7/30/2021 10:37:10 PM

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About the Author
  • Frederick Hess
    University of Virginia
    FREDERICK HESS is an assistant professor of government and education at the University of Virginia. His books include Revolution at the Margins: The Impact of Competition on Urban School Systems, Spinning Wheels: The Politics of Urban School Reform, and Bringing Social Sciences Alive. His work has appeared in journals, including American Politics Quarterly, Phi Delta Kappan, Social Science Quarterly, Policy Studies Journal, and Urban Affairs Review.
  • Robert Maranto
    Villanova University
    E-mail Author
    ROBERT MARANTO teaches political science at Villanova University and with others has produced numerous works including School Choice (Westview, 2001) and Radical Reform of the Civil Service (Lexington, 2001).
  • Scott Milliman
    James Madison University
    SCOTT MILLIMAN is associate professor of economics at James Madison University and coeditor of School Choice in the Real World: Lessons from Arizona Charter Schools (Westview, 2001).
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