Berends Calls for Broader Research Probing Charter School Traits

A comprehensive review of research assessing charter schools as the fastest growing area of school choice reforms has uncovered a need for studies that take a different tack, according to Mark Berends, a distinguished sociologist of education at the University of Notre Dame.

The question of whether the 6,000 charter schools now operating deliver on the promise of school choice laws to shrink achievement gaps demands deeper probes of schools’ qualitative conditions, not merely metrics such as test results, Berends concluded in recently published research.  

Berends, director of Notre Dame’s Center for Research on Educational Opportunity (CREO), poses a timely challenge in the article “Sociology and School Choice: What We Know After Two Decades of Charter Schools.” He notes that the explosive growth of charter schools in the past decade, with total enrollment now exceeding 2.5 million children, has benefited from claims in the public arena that are not thoroughly examined.

The article appears in the new Annual Review of Sociology, to be published in mid-August. Non-subscribers can view the Berends article online for a limited time.

“It’s time to go beyond the horse race between charter and traditional public schools based primarily on test scores,” Berends said in summarizing the conclusion drawn. “More helpful research—how schools and classrooms are organized and an examination of school mission and goals, principal leadership, professional development and parent involvement—will help us understand whether charter schools are truly effective or not.”

Berends is a fellow of the Institute for Educational Initiatives, which advances Notre Dame’s multidisciplinary research of K–12 schools, public and faith-based.

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