In this study, Ian Kingsbury of the University of Arkansas uses data from 394 charter applications in seven states to argue that “stringent regulatory environments impose barriers to aspiring minority candidates and to standalone charter schools.” However, the real story seems to be the disappointing relationship between candidates of color and education and charter management organizations (EMOs and CMOs).

According to Kingsbury, barriers to entering the charter market might manifest in two ways. “First, cumbersome or daunting application processes could deter would-be applicants from applying in the first place…Second, greater regulation could induce authorizers to prefer applications from White applicants and CMO/EMO-affiliated entities.”

Because no data exist for would-be applicants who were deterred, Kingsbury uses the share of applicants affiliated with an EMO or CMO as a proxy for the first form of deterrence. But this is problematic for a number of reasons. (For example, EMOs and CMOs may avoid states that are inhospitable to charters.) Somewhat more plausibly, he uses states’ NACSA scores (which reflect that organization’s opinion of their laws on authorizing) as a proxy for their regulatory environments. But of course, this too can be questioned, as it makes “regulation” unidimensional when in reality it is far more complex.

Regardless, Kingsbury estimates that a one-point increase in a state’s NACSA score is associated with just a 0.4 percentage point increase in an applicant’s odds of management organization affiliation—meaning that moving from the minimum score of zero to the maximum score of thirty-three might increase a state’s management organization affiliation rate by about a dozen percentage points. This is a minor bug if you spend your time worrying about “institutional isomorphism” (or the tendency toward charters that all look and feel the same), but it’s a feature if you buy the research on CMOs’ comparatively strong performance.

More interesting (at least to this reviewer) are the descriptive statistics on applications that the author has compiled. For example, judging from the primary “point-of contact” on charter applications, Hispanics are badly underrepresented among charter applicants in most states; whereas whites are overrepresented in Arizona and Nevada, and African Americans are overrepresented in Indiana, Ohio, and Texas. These imbalances provide necessary context for the second part of the analysis, which looks at approval rates.

Unsurprisingly, applicants affiliated with management organizations are about 20 percentage points more likely to be approved. More troublingly, some fraction of this advantage seems to be driven by race. According to Kingsbury, black and Hispanic candidates are less likely to be affiliated with management organizations. Moreover, affiliated applicants of color are only 10 percentage points more likely to be approved (rather than 20 points). Finally, even after controlling for education and management organization affiliation, candidates of color are still 25 percentage points less likely to be approved. Notably, the racial approval gap swells to 78 percentage points when management organization affiliation is excluded from the model. In other words, most of this gap reflects the relationship between black and Hispanic candidates and management organizations.

To Kingsbury, all of this highlights the folly of overregulation. (For example, a one-point increase in a state’s NACSA score is associated with a 1.7 percentage point decrease in Black and Hispanic applicants’ odds of approval.) However, to this reviewer, the big story is the disappointing relationship between race and management organization affiliation, which raises at least two decidedly awkward questions: Why aren’t management organizations recruiting more African American and Hispanic applicants? And perhaps even more to the point, why don’t the candidates of color they do manage to recruit see more of a boost?

SOURCE: Ian Kingsbury, “Charter School Regulation as a Barrier to Entry,” University of Arkansas (March 2018).

David Griffith is a senior research and policy associate at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where he helps manage a variety of projects in Fordham’s research pipeline. A native of Portland, Oregon, David holds a bachelor’s degree in politics and philosophy from Pomona College and a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University. Prior to joining Fordham, he worked as a staffer for Congressman Earl Blumenauer…

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