Opponents of charter schools often argue that charter public schools owe their success to parents who are motivated enough to exercise a school choice option.  According to this account, charter schools themselves do little to increase student achievement.  Rather, they attract more engaged and “connected” parents who were likely to push their children to excel in the first place.  In other words, they argue that charter school parents have more social capital than parents who send their children to traditional public schools.

According to a 2011 master’s thesis written by a political science student at the University of Kansas, this theory does not hold for North Carolina’s two excellent KIPP (formerly Knowledge is Power Program) charter schools, KIPP Gaston College Preparatory and KIPP Charlotte.

Author Alison Snider suspected that “parents with a higher degree of educational social capital are more likely to have children who make high scores on standardized tests.”  But she did not find this to be the case.  Using survey research, she found that KIPP and traditional public school parents have similar amounts of social capital.  In other words, it’s the school, not necessarily the parents that make the difference.