the gender gap

Girls outnumber boys in charter schools, study shows. Here’s why that matters.

A KIPP charter school in the Bronx. (Creative Commons)

Look around an average charter school. The difference may be too small to be perceptible, but you might notice a few more girls than boys.

That is the provocative finding of a study released late last year examining data from charter schools across the country, with a focus on North Carolina and the KIPP network of charter schools. The results re-open the long-standing debate on whether charter schools exclude or push out certain types of students.

“The efficacy … of charter schools cannot be fully understood without attention to how students and families sort into schools,” the study’s authors write.

The latest research, conducted by Sean Corcoran and Jennifer Jennings, both of NYU, and published in the peer-reviewed journal Educational Policy, examines national trends. As of the 2010–11 school year, 50.7 percent of charter school students were girls, compared to 48.8 percent of students in traditional public schools — a small but notable gap.

This gap is larger in later grades, and it has grown as the charter sector has expanded over time.

Enrollment by gender: charter vs. district schools. Source: “The Gender Gap in Charter School Enrollment”

The findings are backed up by more recent data: in the 2014–15 school year, 50.4 percent of students at charter schools were female, compared to 48.5 percent in district schools.

The researchers also look specifically at KIPP schools, which lead to large test score gains, according to past research. The study shows that KIPP schools had an even larger gender gap than other charters, serving about 3 percent more girls than similar district schools.

Steve Mancini, KIPP’s public affairs director, said the network has worked to address this and provided more recent data to Chalkbeat showing that the organization’s schools now enroll roughly the same number of boys as girls.

Tracy McDaniel, the founding school director of a KIPP school in Oklahoma City, said his school had reduced the gender enrollment gap by focusing on reducing school suspensions, which disproportionately fall on boys.

“The parents were complaining about suspensions, and boys got in more trouble than the girls,” he said. “We felt like that was a contributing factor if the parents pull out the kids, [and] they were pulling out more boys than girls.”

McDaniel said that his school had gone from roughly 45 percent boys to 50 percent.

However, even a 50–50 split is different than the average traditional U.S. public school, which enrolled 3 percent more male than female students in the 2014–15 school year.

KIPP enrollment by gender

This is not the first time the charter–district gender gap has been noted, but the NYU study appears to be unique in making the question its main focus.

The reason for the gap is unclear.

Corcoran and Jennings point out that girls are disciplined less than boys, and thus might do better in schools with rigid environments. So-called “no excuses” charter schools have been criticized for strict disciplinary practices and high suspension rates; some charter advocates and operators, including KIPP, have said that they are working to reduce exclusionary discipline.

Other hypotheses include different curriculum or programs at charter schools that appeal to girls, a potential lack of services for special education students (who are disproportionately male), and parental preferences for smaller schools for girls.

The gender gap might help explain differences in performance between district and charter schools. Sophisticated research on the effects of charter schools controls for individual student characteristics, including gender, but Corcoran and Jennings point out that this might not account for peer effects — the potential for other students to influence their peers’ performance.

“Given what is known about the positive peer effects of girls for both boys and girls, the success of charter schools may be due at least in part to the gender balance in these schools,” the authors write.

“Although the gender gaps estimated here are not large enough to explain documented differences in charter and traditional school performance, they are meaningful in size.”

This gets at the heart of the debate on charter schools, and if their high test scores in some places — like Boston, Denver, New York City and other urban areas — may be a result of the students they teach rather than how well they teach.

Existing studies on this question paint a complicated picture of how charter schools differ in the students who enter, stay, and leave.

In KIPP specifically, a 2016 study found that student attrition is comparable to other nearby schools, but new KIPP students are more likely to be girls and have higher prior test scores than entering students in traditional public schools. The research estimates that peer effects are likely to explain only a small share of KIPP’s test score gains.

on the record

Eva Moskowitz sends letter calling Success board chair’s comments ‘indefensible’ — but also defending his record

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy

In response to widespread criticism of a racial comment made by Success Academy’s chairman, the leader of the charter network, Eva Moskowitz, sent a letter Tuesday to parents, teachers and staff.

In the letter, Moskowitz used strong language to condemn Daniel Loeb’s comments. On Facebook last week, Loeb wrote that Andrea Stewart-Cousins, an African-American state senator whom he called loyal to unions, does “more damage to people of color than anyone who ever donned a hood” — an apparent reference to the Ku Klux Klan. Loeb later apologized and deleted the comment.

In today’s letter, Moskowitz called the comments “indefensible,” “insensitive” and “hurtful,” a more aggressive rebuke than her previous statement.

Yet she also defended Loeb’s track record in the letter, pointing out his commitment to Success and various social causes. A spokeswoman for Success Academy confirmed that Loeb remains the board’s chairman.

The racist violence that ensued this past weekend in Charlottesville put an even more damaging spin on his comments. At a rally Monday to support Stewart-Cousins, the Senate’s minority leader, she made the connection between her situation and the events in Charlottesville.

“That is extremely hurtful given the legacy, certainly, of people of color — my ancestors,” said Stewart-Cousins. “We all got a chance to see it in Charlottesville, what that represents.”

Moskowitz made a veiled reference to the weekend’s events in the letter, saying that engaging students is “all the more important in the face of the broader trauma and crisis we are facing as a country.”

Here is the full text of the letter:

 

polling problems

National support for charter schools has dropped sharply in last year

PHOTO: Glenn Asakaw/Denver Post
A teacher at a KIPP charter school in Denver

Public support for charter schools has declined substantially in the last year, according to a national survey released Tuesday.

The survey, conducted by the school choice-friendly journal Education Next, found that slightly more Americans support charter schools, 39 percent, than oppose them, at 36 percent. But that marks a drop from 51 percent support just last year — one of the biggest changes in public opinion seen in the long-running survey, according to Harvard professor and the magazine’s editor-in-chief Marty West.

“The sharp drop in support for charter schools constitutes the major change in the school-choice battle over the course of the past year,” wrote West and others in an accompanying essay.  

Results from the annual survey, which polls a representative sample of American adults, come as charter schools have faced a number of recent setbacks.

The NAACP and National Education Association both recently codified positions designed to restrict the growth of charter schools. Last year, charter advocates suffered a high-profile defeat at the ballot box in Massachusetts, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure to lift the state cap on charter schools.

At the same time, Donald Trump, a charter school backer, was elected president, and his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has also been a strong supporter of the publicly funded but privately managed schools.

“The opinions about charter schools that matter most are the opinions of parents and students who have chosen charter schools,” said Nina Rees, the president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in a statement. “This dip in broad public approval, as reported by Education Next, seems more reflective of the unique moment we’re in.”

But the poll finds little evidence that the fall in charter school support is related to Trump or DeVos.

For one thing, backing for private school choice programs — like vouchers or tax credit programs — generally held steady, even though the Trump administration has also praised that approach. Moreover, support for charter schools declined substantially this year among both Democrats and Republicans.

The survey also also informed one group of respondents that Trump supports charter schools and then asked their opinion; another set of people were not told Trump’s position.

Knowing Trump’s views actually led to a net increase in support for charters, with large bumps for Republicans and essentially no effect among Democrats.

It’s unclear, then, what accounts for the drop in support for charter schools. West suggested that increasingly pitched locally debates, like those in Massachusetts and elsewhere, may be part of the explanation.

And while charter school supporters might at least hope that support for charters is higher in states with a lot of them — the idea being that once voters get to know charters, they like them — there is no evidence for that, either.

In an analysis shared with Chalkbeat, West found no correlation between how many students attended a charter in a given state and support for charter schools. That mirrors the election results within Massachusetts, where the ballot initiative to lift the cap on charters lost across the state — even in cities like Boston, where many students attend charter schools.