According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), charter schools, on average, lose over twice the average number of students between 9th and 12th grades than non-charter schools. A spreadsheet analyzing the data is posted below.
Why Charters have such problematic enrollment issues is not clear to me. it could be because they don’t have to backfill when students leave, it could be because districts have greater academic and extra-curricular options, it could be because their students might move more often, it could be because they often have, on average, higher suspension rates than district schools. No one really seems to know. Some people think that when students move around they suffer academically (this report talks about moving homes, not just districts so it’s not a perfect parallel) and intuitively one could argue that when schools fail to keep their students, it’s the students who leave that suffer as they bounce into a new system.
As the conversation about expanding the cap on Charter Schools continues, it is crucial that the policy discussion be fact-based. The dramatic enrollment declines for Charter Schools between 9th and 12th grades is a fact that must be satisfactorily explained before we should even consider increasing the number of these schools. As long as Charter Schools continue to shed students at over twice the state average between 9th and 12th grade, there can be no reasonable expectation that their teaching methods are scalable or that whatever education innovation they might be practicing can be transferred to traditional districts. With their stunningly high enrollment declines, Charter Schools, which start with students who specifically choose to attend them in the first place, are simply not comparable to regular district schools.
Charter Schools do not take us any closer to solving the major problems that exist in public education. Rather, they are using public funds to promote an unsustainable educational model and taking us towards privatizing education. In short, they are an educational fraud.