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Charter Schools & Crime

December 2, 2021
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Alan Moss

Executive Summary 

Schools are one of the primary places where children are taught the skills and behaviors needed to operate in society. Additionally, they are places where high proportions of young people congregate. In part because of their developing brains, young people tend to commit crimes at higher rates than other populations. Missouri has seen a rapid increase in the number of charter schools (i.e., schools independently operated but publicly funded). This increase follows national trends and has prompted more research on the effects of charter schools. In particular, the link between school type and crime has been researched, but it is difficult to establish causal relationships between present/future criminality and  attending a charter school or traditional public school. 

Highlights  

  • Charter schools in Missouri only operate in St. Louis and Kansas City and their numbers have nearly doubled since 2008.
  • New school openings have been shown to somewhat decrease community crime rates, though the effects of school closures have not been well established.
  • Expulsions have been associated more with future incarcerations than other disciplinary techniques. These alternative techniques are used more commonly at schools with proportionally higher White student populations. 
    • Exclusionary policies (suspensions and expulsions) tend to disproportionately affect Black students and students with disabilities, with both groups being suspended at much higher rates than other student groups.

Limitations 

  • Charter schools are not standardized in how they operate. Therefore, generalizing the effects of charter schools is difficult.
  • Charter schools close at higher rates than traditional public schools. School closings generally have negative effects on students and this could counteract any positive effect charter schools could potentially have on crime.
  • Differences in the compositions of charter school student populations (e.g., if they receive higher performing students) may have more of an effect on crime than the actual practices employed at charter schools. 
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