Online Stratification: How Academic Performance Indicators Relate to Choices Between Cyber Charter Schools
by Bryan A. Mann & Stephen Kotok - 2019
Background/Context: A primary argument that supports charter school policy assumes students favor schools with high academic performance ratings, leading to systemic school improvement. Previous research challenges this assumption but has limited generalizability because geographic and enrollment constraints limit student choice sets.
Purpose/Objective: This study examines student enrollment patterns within cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania, a state where elected policymakers tend to view choice as a means for school improvement. Cyber charter schools are advantageous to study in this context because they have fewer enrollment barriers, helping researchers account for constraints found in previous studies.
Research Design: Using consecutive years of student-level enrollment data, we use descriptive statistics and multinomial logistic regression analyses to answer the following questions: Is a particular cyber charter school more popular if it displays relatively higher performance on academic indicators? To what extent do enrollments in the highest performing cyber charter school relate to the demographics of students and school environments that they left?
Findings/Results: The findings suggest that despite the more accessible choice sets inherent in the cyber charter school sector, academic performance indicators still are not linked to popularity within the sector. Enrollment clustering persists along student demographics and feeder district traits.
Conclusions/Recommendations: These findings suggest that even in the cyber charter school sector where key enrollment restrictions are removed, inequitable enrollment patterns persist. These findings continue to challenge basic assumptions used in school choice policy framing. Policymakers should consider this evidence when and if they design and implement charter school policy, creating policy that accounts for inequitable enrollments that occur under current policy logic.
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