Over the past 25 years, charter schools have offered an increasing number of families an alternative to their local district schools. The charter option has proven particularly popular in large cities, but charter-school growth is often constrained by state laws that limit the number of students the sector can serve. In the 2016 election, for example, voters in Massachusetts rejected a ballot question that would have allowed further expansion of charters in communities that had reached the state’s enrollment ceiling.
As a result, charter schools remain the smallest of the sectors that serve K–12 students. While district-operated schools still serve more than 80 percent of the U.S. school-age population, and private schools serve close to 10 percent, charters serve only about 6 percent (a share that is just slightly larger than that of the home-schooling sector). Yet the charter sector is the most rapidly growing segment of the education marketplace, and nationwide, the number of student names on charter-school waiting lists now exceeds one million, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Despite this rapid growth in the charter sector, little is known about the views of parents who are making use of these schools. Are charter-school parents more—or less—satisfied than parents in the district and private sectors with teacher quality, student discipline, and other characteristics of their children’s schools? Do they perceive more misbehavior there, or less? Are communications between parents and schools more or less extensive? And to what extent do parents’ perceptions of these issues vary within each sector?