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Diane Ravitch’s Blog: AP Study: Charters Intensify Racial Segregation, and Charter Leaders Don’t Care

The Associated Press conducted a study of racial segregation in the schools and concluded that charter schools were responsible for intensifying segregation. 

Charter schools are among the nation’s most segregated, an Associated Press analysis finds — an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools.

National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. 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…

In the AP analysis of student achievement in the 42 states that have enacted charter school laws, along with the District of Columbia, the performance of students in charter schools varies widely. But schools that enroll 99 percent minorities-both charters and traditional public schools-on average have fewer students reaching state standards for proficiency in reading and math.

“Desegregation works. Nothing else does,” said Daniel Shulman, a Minnesota civil rights attorney. “There is no amount of money you can put into a segregated school that is going to make it equal.”

Shulman singled out charter schools for blame in a lawsuit that accuses the state of Minnesota of allowing racially segregated schools to proliferate, along with achievement gaps for minority students. Minority-owned charters have been allowed wrongly to recruit only minorities, he said, as others wrongly have focused on attracting whites.

But charter advocates respond that the segregation in charters is voluntary and therefore acceptable.

There is growing debate over just how much racial integration matters. For decades after the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that segregated schools were unconstitutional, integration was held up as a key measure of progress for minorities, but desegregation efforts have stalled and racial imbalances are worsening in American schools. Charter schools have been championed by the U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and as the sector continues to grow it will have to contend with the question of whether separate can be equal.

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools spokeswoman Vanessa Descalzi said today’s charters cannot be compared to schools from the Jim Crow era, when blacks were barred from certain schools.

“Modern schools of choice with high concentrations of students of color is a demonstration of parents choosing the best schools for their children, rooted in the belief that the school will meet their child’s educational needs, and often based on demonstrated student success,” Descalzi said. “This is not segregation…”

Charter schools, which are funded publicly and run privately, enroll more than 2.7 million nationwide, a number that has tripled over the last decade. Meanwhile, as the number of non-charter schools holds steady in the U.S., charters account for nearly all the growth of schools where minorities face the most extreme racial isolation.

While 4 percent of traditional public schools are 99 percent minority, the figure is 17 percent for charters. In cities, where most charters are located, 25 percent of charters are over 99 percent nonwhite, compared to 10 percent for traditional schools.

School integration gains achieved over the second half of the last century have been reversed in many places over the last 20 years, and a growing number of schools educate students who are poor and mostly black or Hispanic, according to federal data.

The resegregation has been blamed on the effects of charters and school choice, the lapse of court-ordered desegregation plans in many cities, and housing and economic trends…

Howard Fuller, a prominent advocate of charters and vouchers whose organization was funded by rightwing foundations for millions of dollars said that “It’s a waste of time to talk about integration.”

He might have also said it is a waste of time to talk about charters and vouchers, which have not provided educational excellence for large numbers of black children. Boucher’s actually depress test scores, and the charter “successes” are those that winnow their students down to the survivors. There is no large-scale charter succcess story. School Choice has failed black and brown children. 

The AP study gave breakouts for individual districts. I can’t find the link, but will keep looking. Here is the data for the schools of Jacksonville, Florida. 

“Between the 181 public and charter schools in Duval County, 13 percent of them reported a black student population of 90 percent or higher in 2014, while none had a 90 or higher white population. Of the 10 most segregated schools in Jacksonville, seven of them were either charter or magnet schools; the other three being traditional neighborhood schools.

“Looking at the data a different way, 1 percent of white students attended a school that is overwhelmingly white while 23 percent of Duval County’s black students attend a school where at least 90 percent of the student body is black.”

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She is the Co-Founder and President of the Network for Publi...