The Associated Press recently published an article called, “US charter schools put growing numbers in racial isolation” (11/3/2017) that draws from an their own study of national enrollment data. Armed with their own analysis, they concluded that about 1,000 charter schools across the country serve super-majorities of students who either identify as African American or Hispanic. This has spun off myriad points and counterpoints. But I can’t help but wonder, are we asking the right questions?
This is how several people responded to the article and the allegation that charter schools put a growing number of children in racial isolation.
Shavar Jeffries, Democrats for Education Reform – Mr. Jeffries published a statement that said the AP had missed an opportunity to talk about segregated cities and instead blamed charter schools for an old systemic problem. Additionally, Mr. Jeffries rejects the notion that African American and Hispanic children can only learn when they attend school with White children.
Robin Lake, Center on Reinventing Public Education – Dr. Lake wrote an opinion piece that called the analysis flawed and revisited other attempts from the past two decades to associate segregation and charter schools. It’s ridiculous and irresponsible, she says, to blame charter schools for systemic segregation. She urges the media to “stop with the paternalism that passes judgment on their choices based on the idea that an all-Black or all-Hispanic will necessarily be bad for their children.”
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools – NAPCS released a statement reiterating that charter schools in urban areas are working, according to research from 2015 study by CREDO at Stanford University. Furthermore, while opinions about charter schools are welcome, the most important opinions are those held by the growing number of families who have chosen to send their children to charter schools.
Sonia Park, Diverse Charter Schools Coalition – In anticipation of the AP story, Sonia Park published an opinion rejecting the notion that charter schools further segregation outright. She claims that the misguided effort to associate charters and segregation is a highly coordinated effort led by Randi Weingarten, the AFT and the NAACP to discredit any school that disrupts the status quo.
Arianna Prothero, EdWeek Blog – Ms. Prothero wrote a summary of the original AP article and documented the Twitter responses of Howard Fuller and Joe Nathan. She highlights the efforts of some charter schools to be increasingly and intentionally diverse.
Jeanne Allen, Center for Education Reform – Ms. Allen broadcast an email calling for pushback on the AP report.
I was struck by some of the strong wording in the responses from many educational reformers, specifically those of Robin Lake who claimed it was ridiculous and irresponsible to blame charter schools for systemic segregation. After studying charter school statutes for the last few years, I thought there might actually be a legal argument to support Robin’s claim. So I quickly reviewed all 45 charter school statutes last week. Here’s what I found.
- Only one state allows charter schools to admit students based on aptitude.
- At least 43 states allow for lotteries when there is more demand for the charter than capacity.
- At least 41 explicitly ensure that any age appropriate, neighborhood student would be enrolled as long as there is space; and
- In at least 37 states, statute explicitly requires charters to follow federal civil rights law, including the requirement to not discriminate based on race.
From this basic, factual information, we can make the following straight-forward observations:
- First, every charter school law clearly stipulates that children and families choose charter schools as opposed to charter schools choosing children and families.
- Second, charter schools cannot legally discriminate on the basis of race or any other designation under civil rights protections.
- Since families choose charter schools and because charter schools cannot discriminate, it is legally impossible for charter schools to actively increase racial isolation.
- Therefore, if racial isolation is worsening, charter schools are not the cause. The people that choose charter schools are making their decisions for reasons we have not been humble or curious enough to understand.
I can’t help but wonder if the AP, a reputable journalistic organization known for asking good questions, is actually asking the wrong questions. Since we know that correlation and causation are not the same, and since we know that charter schools don’t choose families rather families choose charter schools then perhaps we should be asking families why and how they make educational decisions?
And that’s exactly what a group of organizations have done this year. ChoicesInEd.org has called for people from all over the US to share their stories to answer this very question. Visit the website now to see for yourself.
State Charter School Statutes
Check out your state’s charter school statute, specifically the statutes related to enrollment and non-discrimination.
About the author
Before Sam joined ExcelinEd as the Associate Policy Director for Charter Schools, he was a special education teacher, a school and central office administrator, the Executive Director of School Choice at Oklahoma’s department of education and the Managing Director of OPSRC’s Education Collaborative. In every position, Sam worked creatively to meet student needs. He founded the Integrated Support Program at Fischer Middle School in San Jose, California to increase the number and percentage of students with learning disabilities who have access to the general education classroom. He was the first administrator of Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the authorizer for online schools in Oklahoma. And he co-founded a statewide afterschool network called the Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning to organize and advocate for expanded learning opportunities after school and during the summer. Sam’s current interests include charter schools and their role in a functional, thriving democracy.