Escalating Evidence on Charter Segregation

On heels of UCLA study, new study finds charter schools operated by corporations are segregated by race, income, disability and language

Contact: Gary Miron, report co-author - (269) 599-7965; gary.miron@wmich.edu
Kevin Welner, director, EPIC - (303) 492-8370; kevin.welner@colorado.edu

Report url: http://epicpolicy.org/publication/schools-without-diversity

BOULDER, Colo., and TEMPE, Ariz. (Feb. 9, 2010) -- Today the Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at Arizona State University released a study that examines enrollment patterns in schools operated by Education Management Organizations. Schools without Diversity: Education Management Organizations, Charter Schools, and the Demographic Stratification of the American School System finds these schools segregated by race, family income, disabilities, and English language learner status. As compared with the public school district in which these charter schools reside, they are substantially more segregated, and the strong segregative pattern found in 2001 is virtually unchanged through 2007.

The report finds that charter schools tend to be strongly concentrated in racial or ethnic terms compared to the districts that send students to those schools.  The charter schools in the study draw their students from the extremes of family income, divided into either largely high-income or largely low-income populations. Additionally, more than half of these privately managed schools enrolled far fewer English language learners and students with special needs than did their home districts.

The study comes to conclusions remarkably similar to another nationwide study released last week by UCLA's Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles. The two studies, conducted independently using different data, different researchers, and different methods, both found that charter schools segregate.

The EMO study is particularly important because the Obama administration has placed a great deal of faith in the scaling up of nonprofit EMOs (sometimes called Charter Management Organizations, or CMOs) as part of the administration's turnaround strategy. This findings of this new study suggests that these policies have the very real potential to be harmful to the nation's social and educational interests.

"Charter schools were originally intended to provide distinctive learning environments," observes the report's lead author, Professor Gary Miron of Western Michigan University. "As it turns out, what is often most distinctive about charters is the composition of their student bodies." The schools show evidence both of White flight and of minority flight. "Parents are selecting schools where their child will experience less diversity," says Miron.

A primary reaction to the UCLA study from charter advocates quoted in newspaper articles has been to dismiss the importance of segregation and to argue that the key issue is results. Kevin Welner, director of the EPIC policy center at CU-Boulder, worries that this is a return to the "separate but equal" standard that was supplanted by the conclusion in Brown v. Board that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. "Even assuming that this might be a conversation worth (again) having, the reality is that charter schools as a whole do not appear to generate improved test scores," Welner explains. "We are getting the harms of segregation without any significant achievement benefits. It is imperative that we address these two issues together. We should approach charter schools with the foundational understanding that diversity and high achievement are mutually reinforcing and then structure our charter policies accordingly."

The Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at Arizona State University collaborate to produce policy briefs and think tank reviews. Our goal is to promote well-informed democratic deliberation about education policy by providing academic as well as non-academic audiences with useful information and high quality analyses. This policy brief was made possible in part by the generous support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.  This study can be accessed at: http://epicpolicy.org/publication/schools-without-diversity

Visit EPIC and EPRU at http://www.educationanalysis.org/

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