Chartered Adventures into Charter School Data

Recently we’ve had requests to look deeper into data about kids in highly chartered communities. Here are some things that we’ve learned.

Charter schools, officially known as Public School Academies in Michigan, are state-supported public schools operating under a charter contract issued by a public authorizing body, usually a state university. As state-supported, they must follow the same state and federal educational standards as other public schools, and can’t screen students based on their race, religion, gender or test scores, and it is the authorizer, not the state, who acts as the school’s regulator in place of the state.

Michigan’s charter school law was signed by then governor John Engler in 1994. According to Ken Coleman at the Michigan Advance, there were 40 charter schools operating throughout Michigan in 1995, which was the first full school year of the charter school era. In the 2022-2023 school year, there were 373 charter schools in Michigan serving 10.5% (150,486) of all (1,437,279) Michigan students according to the MI School Data student count file.

MI School Data is run by the State of Michigan’s Center of Education Performance and Information (CEPI). Every year, CEPI publishes the Education Entity Master (EEM) file, a dataset listing all districts and schools operating within the state. The number of schools and districts can change from year to year, so counts of charter schools—termed Public School Academies (PSA) in the dataset—can change. Other files published by MI School Data, like the student count file (which we’re using here) are not necessarily created or reported at the same point in time as the EEM. School counts based on these files can differ slightly, even if the files are from the same school year.

Most data about charter schools comes from the State of Michigan’s official education data site, MI School Data. One of the trickiest aspects of working with charter school data is the naming conventions due to the different legal nature of charter schools versus public school districts. In these datasets, a charter school is often its own district. So some reported districts have only one school, but sometimes charter school districts have multiple schools. To make it slightly more confusing, because of changes to the law over time, there are some schools with very similar names—like University Prep—that currently operate as one but are technically separate charter districts. This sometimes provides unique challenges for assessing the overall landscape of charter schools in a particular community.

Charter Schools Over Time

Originally, there was a cap on the number of charter schools in Michigan at 250, but in 2011 the Michigan Legislature allowed the cap to be increased in 2012 and again in 2013, and eliminated it altogether by the end of 2014. MI School Data provides data starting in the 2010-11 school year when the state total was below the 250 school cap at 220, with jumps in the number of charter schools as the cap was raised. Over time, the rate of change slowed, but the total number still gradually increased. There appears to be a pandemic dip that rebounds the following years.

A line chart showing the change in the number of charter schools in Michigan from the 2010-2011 school year to the 2022-2023 school year in Michigan and Detroit
A line chart showing year-over-year rate of change in the number of charter schools in Michigan from the 2010-2011 school year to the 2022-2023 school year in Michigan and Detroit

Using Charter School Data

In 2022, we started a collaboration with Teen HYPE, who was looking for data to help target their school-based programs and outreach efforts for Detroit students, especially to understand which schools and districts it would be best to direct future outreach to. We first looked at overall enrollment data for Detroit students in the 2021-2022 school year. We also used the 2021 American Community Survey 5-year Public Use Microdata Series to contextualize the enrollment numbers.

A comparison for grades 3-5 and 6-12 of what type of school they go

One of the first things that stood out to us were the 46,023 (59.2%) kids in grades 3-12 attending school somewhere besides Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), which includes charter schools both within and without the City of Detroit, other public school districts, private schools, and home schools. In comparison, only 34,487 Detroit kids are enrolled in a DPSCD school for grades 3-12. For Teen HYPE, this indicated that expanding their outreach efforts beyond DPSCD would reach many more kids and could help them demonstrate this with clear data during grant applications and working with schools outside of DPSCD.

We also looked at the charter schools that have the highest enrollment of students from Detroit, both for grades 3-5, and 6-12. One of the things we noted here, Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences, Detroit Premier Academy, and University Preparatory Academy are charter schools located in Detroit, but the majority of the students are not Detroit residents. This is in sharp contrast to DPSCD students where over 93% of the students are residents of Detroit.

Bar charts of the top non-DPSCD districts attended by Detroit kids, separated by grades 3-5 and 6-12

Understanding the differences between school enrollment, geographic spread of students, and other characteristics of the charter school environment can help education-focused organizations better focus their efforts to serve kids. It can also help illuminate different trends and make grant writing and reporting more effective and efficient.

Head over to our State of the Child to our education related data. Kind find your answer there? AskD3 for free to get started!

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