Objective. The objective of this article is to investigate two distinct strands in the charter school movement: one that emphasizes school-based management and another that emphasizes market efficiency. We were interested in whether charter schools that were founded or co-founded by for-profit education management organizations (EMOs) tend to pursue economies of scale and are less likely than others to implement school-level decision making in key areas.

Methods. The analysis uses data drawn from a survey we conducted of the population of charter schools in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.

Results. We find that charter schools that were founded or co-founded by EMOs tend to be larger and are less likely to exhibit decision-making control at the school level.

Conclusions. Our analysis underscores the importance of disaggregating the charter school phenomenon into its distinct constituent parts in order to draw meaningful lessons from this evolving and significant experiment in alternative education delivery mode.