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Among largest cities, Philadelphia has highest share of charter students

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

With nearly one in four city students in publicly funded schools attending a charter, Philadelphia is among the top 10 cities in the country for charter market share, according to a report released this week.

Philadelphia, though, is by far the largest district in the country with such a big proportion of students in charters. With more than 200,000 students, the Philadelphia’s School District is nearly twice as large as the next biggest district in the top 20, Detroit, which has 113,000 students.

According to the report, compiled by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), a nonprofit advocacy organization, 23 percent of students in Philadelphia, attended charters in 2011-12. That amounts to nearly 47,000 students.

In terms of the raw number of students attending charters, the city ranks fourth, behind Los Angeles, New York City, and Detroit.

"The increase in public charter school enrollment in all types of communities across America shows that parent demand for school options continues to grow," said Nina Rees, president and chief executive of NAPCS, in a statement.

The report details the growth of the charter school movement across the country. A record-high 110 school districts now have at least 10 percent of their students attending charters, an increase of almost 15 percent over last year. The New Orleans school system, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, held the highest enrollment percentage, with 76 percent of the students attending a charter. Detroit and the District of Columbia were next, at 41 percent each.

Noted charter school researcher Gary Miron, in a Huffington Post story about the report, points out something that the NAPCS report doesn’t address: the growing role of charter management organizations in creating networks of schools. Miron says that, nationally, 42 percent of charter students now attend schools run by such organizations. Here in Philadelphia, they include Mastery, KIPP, Universal, and Young Scholars. The growth of charter networks, Miron argues, has diluted the original purpose of charters as small schools acting as centers of innovation.

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