Competitive Effects of Charter Schools

Project: Research project


Issue: The use of charter schools to expand public school choice has been growing rapidly over the last thirty years: Forty-four states, plus Washington, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico, currently allow the creation of charter schools, and over 3.2 million students nationwide attend charter schools (National Association of Public Charter Schools, 2019). A common argument for the expansion of school choice programs is that in addition to providing new educational options for students who enroll in schools of choice, these schools may also put competitive pressures on traditional public schools and incentivize them to deliver higher quality education to their remaining students. To date a handful of studies have explored the competitive effects of charter schools; however, most of those have contended with empirical limitations including short longitudinal timeframes, a focus on single districts, or lack of plausible sources of exogenous variation. Furthermore, we know little about the effects of charter competition on outcomes beyond test scores, while even the estimates for cognitive outcomes are mixed and appear to be context-specific. Importantly, from a policy perspective, there is also no evidence on how these competitive effects interact with those stemming from other school choice options like vouchers or different traditional public schools. It is easy to envision cases in which voucher programs and charter schools could be either complements or substitutes.

Project: We propose to study the competitive effects of charter schools in the context of Florida, home to one of the largest charter school sectors in the nation. Specifically, we will explore how competitive pressure generated by charter schools affects outcomes including test scores, discipline, and attendance of students that remain in traditional public schools. Thanks to an extraordinary dataset that merges birth vital records with longitudinal administrative education data, we will execute the analysis using two novel empirical strategies and compare these results with estimates generated by methods more commonly used in the extant literature. Furthermore, the quality of data at hand allows us to comprehensively address potential heterogeneity in treatment effects along the lines of race, gender, economic disadvantage, maternal education, family structure, type of school, and school quality. Critically, from a policy design perspective, we will also take a comprehensive look at how competitive pressures stemming from different school choice options interact with each other, and for example, whether competitive effects generated by charter and voucher schools are complements or substitutes. We already have in hand all of the confidential data, as well as the appropriate approvals, necessary to carry out this project, and we intend to conduct the research on an accelerated one-year timeframe.
We aim to disseminate the results of our analyses widely. The main product of this research project will be a peer-reviewed academic article or series of articles on the competitive effects of charter schools. Prior to this final step, however, we plan to present the results at academic conferences and make them available for scrutiny of other researchers and general public by releasing working paper in National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) series. We also intend to make an executive summary of our research available through write-ups in major news outlets and policy briefs. All these channels should allow us to reach broad audiences of not only policy makers but also par
Effective start/end date11/1/1910/31/20


  • Smith Richardson Foundation (2019-2082)


school choice
Puerto Rico
economic research
family structure