Charter School Leaders Are Complicit with Segregation, and It’s Hurting Their Movement

Andre Perry, Hechinger Report, December 11, 2017

Charter Schools Didn’t Create Segregation But The Charter School movement isn’t helping to end it either.

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A recent Associated Press analysis of national school enrollment data found that “as of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

A startling number, but the charter school lobby essentially responded with a version of, “So what?”

“Academics, attorneys, and activists can hold any opinion they want about public charter schools and other families’ school choices,” said a spokesperson for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in an official response to the AP story. “In the end, parents’ and students’ opinions are the only ones that matter. And every year, more parents are choosing charter schools.”

New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait co-signed that dismissal of segregation with a column that essentially argued it’s not really the job of charter schools to change the system of oppression that created schools that perform poorly, “because integrating schools is hard,” and he calls the criticism of increased segregation among charters as merely a “talking point.” For Chait, rising test scores trump segregation concerns.

In the all-charter district of New Orleans, virtually no (less than one percent) white students attend schools in that have earned a “D” or “F” performance rating.

In the all-charter district of New Orleans — that Chait described at the 2015 anniversary of Hurricane Katrina as “spectacular” in another defense of charters — virtually no (less than one percent) white students attend schools in that have earned a “D” or “F” performance rating. But 77 percent of white students are enrolled in “A-” and “B-” rated schools, according to a new report by non-profit advocacy group Urban League of Louisiana. It is unthinkable that this situation would be tolerated if the students’ races were reversed. It is clear that segregation, and who gets a quality choice, matters.

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The segregated state of our schools helps maintain the inequitable funding that determines families’ educational options. When the government-backed Home Owner’s Loan Corporation developed color-coded maps to sort out who could receive mortgage lending, blacks who lived in the red sections of the map were not given loans. And of course, the most well-resourced schools just happen to be located in the most expensive neighborhoods.

Giving kids a quality education is an excellent goal. But getting to the source of inequity is real reform.

The Brookings team looked closely at district lines, and they found that if you remove them, many schools become more racially imbalanced. It seems to me that wealthy neighborhoods are using district lines to leverage themselves against demographic shifts. According to EdBuild, a non-profit focused on school finance issues, the most egregious cases of segregation are shown by the roughly 36 districts that were formed since 2000 as a result of secession — when a school district splits from a larger one.

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The Brookings report found that among the racially imbalanced schools, charters stood out as having a much higher representation of black students. Their imbalance rating is roughly four times that of traditional public schools. {snip}

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In a statement in response to the AP story, Shavar Jeffries, national president of Democrats for Education Reform, said sarcastically, “Apparently, the school segregation problem boils down to Black and Brown parents choosing schools that aren’t White enough, as if the doors of all-White schools would magically open if only they had the good sense to seek to enroll their children in them.”

Our fascination with inclusion is inherently corrupt, because it is born of the misconception that whiter schools are better.

{snip} To dismiss segregation is to accept structural inequality and the status quo.

We’ve simply given up on the radical idea of integrating schools. The last major effort occurred in 2007, in the Supreme Court case Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1. The court ruled that Seattle and Louisville school districts’ efforts to desegregate/integrate schools by using individuals’ race to place students in schools were unconstitutional. The “diverse by design” coalition, a group of deliberately integrated schools that poses more of a threat to structural inequality, offers some hope.

The AP study pointed to the right problem with charter schools: an overrepresentation of black and brown students. {snip}

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