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Private and Public Goals of Charter Schools

BOULDER, CO (September 9, 2021)—The recent book, Choosing Charters: Better Schools or More Segregation? presents a variety of perspectives about the societal and educational roles charter schools have played and might play in the future. Today, with the permission of the publisher, Teachers College Press, NEPC is making available the chapter written by Henry Levin, which explores the charter school tension between private goals and public goals.

Professor Levin’s chapter, Charter Schools: Rending or Mending the Nation, identifies that challenge as, “how to accommodate diverse choices that parents may seek for the education of their own children with an educational experience that serves to prepare all the young for a common set of social, political, and economic institutions.” The risk, he explains, “is that if charter schools are designed to affirm the specific beliefs of the families they serve, their educational programs are unlikely to reflect the diverse views of a pluralistic society.”

Levin’s concerns presaged a recent article by Carol Burris in the Washington Post, which called attention to a North Carolina charter school that was initially formed in 1970 as a private segregation academy designed to shield white students from desegregation. That charter was one of 30 North Carolina charter schools that Burris examined because it received funding through the federal Charter School Program. She found that more than a third of them were providing white students with a substantially whiter enclave than the community’s public district-run schools. Further, when she compared the enrollment of economically disadvantaged students in charters and district schools, she found at least a 20-point gap for 79% of the charters and at least a 40-point gap for 45% of the charters.

As Levin notes, when students are separated from one another, they cannot learn from one another. Even before the recent chaos, he warned that separation can lead to “confirmatory bias to . . . beliefs and understandings.” “If the choice of schools is just a reinforcement of partisan views of the world already held by families, the role of schools will circumvent the informed decision-making required for democratic governance,” Levin writes.

He concludes, “Charter schools may lead to greater parental satisfaction with schools in addressing their private goals and values, but they may also lead to greater segregation of students and a tattering of the social fabric of preparation for democratic and civic participation.”

Find Charter Schools: Rending or Mending the Nation, by Henry M. Levin, at:

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