Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kevin Welner

Second Advisor

Emily Calhoun

Third Advisor

Alan Canner


Charter schools can increase educational equity by expanding schooling options to disadvantaged students, allowing such students to choose schools outside their often racially isolated neighborhoods. Students and parents can also choose charter schools to further sort and isolate themselves by race and achievement, however. This study uses empirical approaches to explore racial isolation and sorting patterns, including whether racial and achievement self-sorting exist in Delaware's charter schools, and legal approaches concerning how to address potential racial isolation concerns. Delaware has a long history of racial isolation in its schools, highlighting the importance of this analysis. The empirical portion of this study investigates whether charter schools in Delaware provide a mechanism for student self-sorting. It analyzes the transfer patterns of students with certain characteristics as they switch from traditional public schools (TPSs) to charter schools and vice versa. Using longitudinal student-level data, this study tracks each student who switched from TPSs to charter schools and vice versa, to identify the specific TPSs and charter schools that each student attended. It examines the racial compositions and achievement levels of students' previous TPSs and their charter schools to determine whether students are moving to schools with a higher proportion of their own race or higher (or lower) scoring students than the schools they left. The outcomes suggest that students are switching to charter schools with more of their own race. In addition, non-minority students transfer to higher performing charter schools while minority students move to lower performing charters. In light of these results, this dissertation continues with a legal analysis that provides charter schools and policymakers with guidance on how they can alleviate racial isolation concerns, informed by the recent Supreme Court decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007), which struck down race-conscious plans in Seattle and Louisville. It also investigates the enrollment practices of charter schools in Delaware, which may be hindering attempts to reduce racial isolation.