At the recent Education Writers Association national seminar
in Chicago, a small breakout session asked the following question: Is
school choice a tool for opportunity and equity, or further segregation?
Following the latest negative spin on charter schools around the country, it seems most education journalists decidedly choose the latter.
“If you’re an education writer and aren’t covering segregation in schools, I’d ask you why,” said Nikole Hannah-Jones, winner of the EWA award for best education reporting, in her acceptance speech.
Her comments echo the controversial study
released by Duke University researchers in conjunction with the
National Bureau of Economic Research earlier this month, which claims
charter schools in North Carolina are further segregating public schools
and leaving minority students behind.
The Washington Post says this is proof white parents are using charter schools to “secede” from the traditional public system. But the figures show otherwise.
According to Watchdog.org reporter Moriah Costa’s report
on Washington, D.C. schools, charter schools in the nation’s capital
have 78 percent black students, a full 10 percent ahead of normal public
And it’s not just in Washington, D.C.
The Center for Education Reform’s 2014 Charter School Survey finds
charter schools serve more low-income students, more black and Hispanic
“Charter students are somewhat more likely to qualify for Free and
Reduced Lunch due to being low-income (63 percent of charter students
versus 48 percent of public school students), to being African-American
(28 percent of charter students versus 16 percent of public school
students) or to being Hispanic (28 percent of charter students versus 23
percent of public school students),” says the study.
Even applied locally, charter schools provide more academic results to a more diverse student body.
A March 2015 study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes,
an institute hosted at Stanford University, examined 41 different
metropolitan school districts and recorded a higher level of academic
growth in kids who attend charter schools.
“Our findings show urban charter schools in the aggregate provide
significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading
compared to their traditional public school peers,” claims the study.
That includes metros such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver,
Detroit, Indianapolis, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans,
Phoenix and Washington, D.C.
“Across all urban regions, Black students in poverty receive the
equivalent of 59 days of additional learning in math and 44 days of
additional learning in reading compared to their peers in traditional
public schools,” write the authors.
That’s 48 extra days of math learning and 25 additional days of reading learning for Hispanic students.
In a provocative 2009 study,
entitled “Do charter schools ‘cream skim’ students and increase
racial-ethnic segregation?”, researchers from Mathematica Policy
Research at Vanderbilt University couldn’t document any proof of
segregation in charter schools.
“We find little evidence that charter schools are systematically
creating greater segregation,” said the researchers. In addition, they
found that students who transfer to charter schools receive better test
scores once they begin in their new schools, not before.
That puts down the claim that charter schools are only recruiting
amongst the best students and leaving poor-performing kids behind, a
charge often cited by public school activists and teachers unions.
The most vociferous reactions to the claims of charter school
segregation have come from black leaders in the charter school movement.
“Nonsense,” said David Hardy, CEO of Boys Latin of Philadelphia
Charter. “Poor public schools do more to increase segregation than any
charter,” he told Watchdog.org. Hardy’s school population is made up of
approximately 97 percent black students.
Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom, a
North Carolina-based charter school organization, blasted the claims as
“false and disingenuous.” He points to figures
which show charter schools in the Tar Heel State have a student
population with over 30 percent while traditional public schools have
only 26 percent.
Considering the facts, the notion that charter schools are further
segregating minority students seems to be without support. Whether that
will inform the arguments of charter school and school choice opponents
is still to be determined.
Watchdog.org reporters Evan Grossman, Moriah Costa, Mary Tillotson, and Paul Brennan contributed to this report.