Charter Schools and Their Enemies by Thomas Sowell

A critical analysis of “Charter Schools and Their Enemies” by Thomas Sowell.

In “Charter Schools and Their Enemies,” Thomas Sowell delves into the contentious debate surrounding charter schools in the United States. Sowell, a known advocate for school choice, presents a comprehensive case in favour of charter schools, arguing for their effectiveness in providing quality education, especially for disadvantaged students. He also examines the opposition they face from various quarters, including public school advocates and teacher unions.


  1. Data-Driven Arguments: Sowell utilizes a robust collection of empirical data to demonstrate the successes of charter schools, especially in urban areas. This statistical approach is aimed at countering claims that charter schools don’t outperform public schools.
  2. Addressing Disparities: The book effectively highlights the achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts in traditional public schools and shows how certain charter schools have made significant strides in narrowing or even eliminating that gap.
  3. Dissection of Opposition: Sowell doesn’t just advocate for charter schools; he critically assesses the reasons behind the opposition they face, suggesting that much of it stems from political and economic interests rather than genuine concern for student outcomes.
  4. Case Studies: By providing specific examples of successful charter schools, Sowell gives concrete evidence of their potential and the transformative impact they can have on students’ lives.


  1. Perceived Bias: While Sowell provides a wealth of data in support of charter schools, critics argue that he doesn’t give a balanced view by sufficiently acknowledging the criticisms or failures associated with some charter initiatives.
  2. Generalizations: Some critics feel that by highlighting the success stories of a few charter schools, Sowell may inadvertently paint an overly rosy picture, not accounting for the variability in quality among different charter institutions.
  3. Overemphasis on Opposition’s Motivations: While it’s crucial to understand why charter schools face opposition, some believe Sowell spends too much time speculating about the motives of charter school detractors, which can detract from the more empirical aspects of his argument.
  4. Lack of Nuance in Policy Implications: While the book makes a strong case for the benefits of charter schools, it doesn’t delve deeply into the complexities of scaling these successes or integrating charter school practices into the broader educational landscape.


“Charter Schools and Their Enemies” is a compelling defense of the charter school movement in the U.S., grounded in extensive data and real-world examples. Sowell’s approach is methodical, and his arguments are persuasive, especially to those already inclined to support school choice. However, while the book offers a strong critique of charter school opposition, it could benefit from a more nuanced discussion of the challenges and criticisms faced by the charter school movement. It serves as an essential read for anyone interested in the ongoing debate about the future of education in America.