Once an educational experiment, public charter schools have seen a surge in students over the past half-decade.
The number of students attending public charter schools continued to steadily rise last school year, with some school districts – such as Los Angeles – experiencing a growth rate of nearly 10 percent in just one year.
Over the past five years, student enrollment in public charter schools has grown by 62 percent, according to the 10th annual report issued by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In 43 states and the District of Columbia, more than 2.9 million students attended charter schools last year – around 6 percent of the total number of students enrolled in all public schools across the country.
The report follows the release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as NAEP or the Nation's Report Card, which showed that some cities with large numbers of charter schools, like Washington, are making big gains in student achievement.
"Washington, D.C., is one of the best examples of a thriving charter public school environment," said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "Charter schools continue to provide a growing number of families with high-quality public school options, and have been a vital part of D.C.'s educational revitalization, with total public school enrollment growing for the first time in decades."
A total of 14 districts across the country saw 30 percent or more of their students enrolled in charter schools. When the report was first published 10 years ago, only New Orleans met a 30 percent benchmark, and just six public school districts had at least 20 percent of their students enrolled in charters.
But a decade after Hurricane Katrina, more than 90 percent of students in New Orleans' public school system were in charter schools in the 2014-2015 school year. In New York City, the number of charters has quadrupled since 2008. And in the District of Columbia, 44 percent of public school students attended a charter school last year.
As the numbers of charters and charter students continue to grow, the schools are continuing to serve mainly poor and minority students. According to this year's report, more than 80 percent of the students in the 10 districts with the highest charter enrollments were low-income, and 86 percent were students of color.
"These exceptional results demonstrate that charter schools are improving student achievement," Rees said.