Privatising form or function? Equity, outcomes and influence in American charter schools

Christopher Lubienski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The American experiment with charter schools advanced on dual impulses of increasing opportunities for disadvantaged students and unleashing market competition. While critics see these independently managed schools as a form of privatisation, proponents contend that they are public schools because of funding and accountability arrangements and potential benefits, and believe that the economic logic around these schools will produce equitable educational opportunities. This analysis considers how charters are or are not instances of privatisation in education, showing that the marketised environment they are intended to nurture serves as a route for profit-seeking strategies. In reviewing the research on charter school organisational behaviour and outcomes in marketised environments, I find evidence of de facto privatisation in function if not in form. As charter schools often act like profit-seeking entities, but fail to achieve expected academic and equity outcomes, the concluding discussion considers how these schools are placed between conflicting goals, and serve as entry points for private organisations seeking to penetrate the publicly funded education sector. I conclude that perhaps their most important role is in serving as a vehicle for privatising public policy-diminishing the public while enhancing the position and influence of private interests and organisations in education policymaking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)498-513
Number of pages16
JournalOxford Review of Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2 2013


  • academic outcomes
  • access
  • charter schools
  • equity
  • marketisation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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