Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Choice without Equity: Charter School Segregation (Executive Summary)

Frankenberg, E., Siegel-Hawley, G., Wang, J. (2010). Choice without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards. Los Angeles, CA: The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA; www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu.

During a time when there is great financial incentive and national political pressure to expand charter schools, these schools continue to be some of the worst perpetrators of school segregation by race and class.  The authors present data from 40 states, the District of Columbia and many large urban areas with considerable percentages of charter schools demonstrating that charter schools are clearly more segregated than traditional pubic schools.

The authors identify four major themes that emerge from the study:

First, charter schools, though increasing in number, make up a small fraction of schools nation-wide.  Only 2.5% of students attend charter schools and, although there is great federal pressure to raise this number, there is not compelling evidence that charter schools in general offer better educational options.

Second, charter schools are more segregated than traditional schools.  Charter schools often locate in urban areas with high concentrations of black and other minority students, making charter schools highly segregated schools for black children in particular.  Over 70 percent of black students that attend charter schools attend schools with 90-100 percent minority students.  43 percent of these students attended schools with 99 percent minority students.  In total, black students comprise approximately 30 percent of all charter students.  This means black students who attend charter schools will most likely attend intensely segregated schools.  This trend is true, to a lesser extent, for all minority charter school students, who are more likely to attend a segregated charter school than a traditional public school.

Third, depending on the region of the country being studied, charter school trends vary widely.  Different proportions of students of different races attend charter schools, sometimes trending against the wider demographics of the region, depending on the region of the country being studied.  This is true for white, black and Latino students.

Fourth, there is alarmingly little data offered by some schools, cities and states, making charter school assessment on many of these issues somewhat difficult.  Many charter schools (one in four) do not report data on low-income students and many also do not report data on English Language Learners.  More data must be available to ensure that charter schools are serving all students equitably.

The federal government should take immediate steps to promote charter school integration by updating civil rights regulations as they apply to charter schools.  There also needs to be assurances, based on regulation, that data can be collected around race, class and language ability of charter school students.  Data on socioeconomic status should be included in the charter school evaluative process.

Important Quotes:

“Decades of social science studies find important benefits associated with attending diverse schools, and, conversely, related educational harms in schools where poor and minority students are concentrated.”

“Ironically, charter schools held an early promise of becoming more integrated than regular public schools because they were not constrained by racially isolating school district boundary lines. This report shows instead that charter schools make up a separate, segregated sector of our already deeply stratified public school system.”

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