Assessing charter school choice in North Carolina: an analysis of the factors that impact student enrollment decisions

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jason Brian Saunders (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Kathy Hytten

Abstract: Families in the United States have more options with school choice than ever before; one option that exists is charter school. But within this free market education system, is school choice fully open to everyone? Unfortunately, current data suggest that charter schools nationwide, especially those in North Carolina where I focused this study, are significantly less diverse with regards to the students they serve than traditional public schools. The purpose of this study was to investigate approaches to marketing and messaging by North Carolina charter schools and the impact these may have on access for families. I was interested in barriers, both explicit and hidden, to charter school enrollment. Using critical discourse analysis, I studied 30 charter school websites. I also interviewed principals from four of these charter schools. Fifteen of the 30 websites were from schools with a student demographic that was predominantly White, in spite of being located within a racially diverse community. The other 15 websites were from racially diverse charter schools in which the largest student group by race made up less than half of the entire student population. Two of the 4 leaders for the interviews were from the predominantly White schools, and the other 2 were from the racially diverse group. Findings from this study contribute to existing literature and inform future practice and research. First, I found a general lack of intentional use of the school website for marketing and messaging purposes by charter school leaders. Messages about school offerings, opportunities, and services that one would expect to be commonplace were quite sporadic among the reviewed websites. Second, the school websites featured images that made the schools’ racial makeup very evident to prospective families who were looking for a strong match between themselves and the school. Third, there was a significant difference between schools in each set with regard to messaging on their websites in four key areas—free or reduced lunch opportunities, monetary and time contributions from parents, student participation in athletics, and curriculum and instruction within the school. Finally, the charter school leaders I interviewed differed in how they viewed marketing for recruitment purposes. Implications of this study involve decision-makers at the school level and the state level; I also share recommendations for future research. I suggest charter school leaders should form a concrete plan for increasing and maintaining diversity within their school and be more intentional with information and images on their schools’ websites. State legislators should consider ideas like the weighted lottery in order to move school choice toward a more inclusive model for all families. Future research should focus on how information is obtained and perceived by families, including those with special needs, via a range of possibilities that include the school website and the school tour.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2019
Access, Charter school enrollment, Critical discourse analysis, Marketing, Messaging, School choice
Charter schools $z North Carolina $x Marketing
School enrollment $z North Carolina
School choice $z North Carolina
Discrimination in education $z North Carolina

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