Thursday, November 24, 2011

Charter Schools and Segregation

Charter schools are often accused of "segregation" merely for serving too many black kids. One recent example of this criticism comes from Zoe Burkholder of Montclair State University in New Jersey, who has an article in Teachers College Record lamenting the fact that DC Prep Charter School is 98% black.

She does concede that black parents have a good reason to choose DC Prep: "parents in D.C. can choose between a traditional public school racked with violence and high dropout rates, or a charter school that is safe and promises to teach at least two of the '3 Rs.'" She even admits that "maybe anyone would prefer a charter school like DC Prep under these conditions."

But she immediately backs away from agreeing that black parents ought to have the option of choosing such a school:
But that doesn’t make it okay, and here is why. When you step back from DC Prep, and successful charter schools like it, what you see is a public school that is racially and socio-economically segregated and inherently very different from the form and function of the majority of public schools in America. . . . Since Horace Mann first rode horseback through New England to sell the idea of tax-supported “common schools” for all children, Americans have dared to dream that public education will instill in our citizenry the many capacities necessary for self-government: critical thinking, civic engagement, tolerance for diversity, an appreciation for the arts and sciences, a knowledge of global affairs, a critical understanding of American history, and the capacity for civil debate.
I've said this about Diane Ravitch before: If you're going to oppose the so-called "segregation" of charter schools, even though it arises from the completely voluntary choices of black parents, you should think twice before waxing so eloquent about Horace Mann's day, when it was often illegal for black people to attend school anywhere. Nor is it historically correct that "Americans" wanted "tolerance of diversity" in public schools during the 100+ years of officially-mandated segregation.

In any event, Burkholder makes the same mistake that the highly publicized Civil Rights Project (headed by Gary Orfield) made: she compares DC Prep Charter School to "the majority of public schools in America."

That comparison is completely meaningless. We know that charter schools are much more likely to be located in inner-city neighborhoods where the demographics are much different from the national average. Indeed, if an inner-city DC or Atlanta charter school had demographics that resembled the broader United States, that school would instantly be accused of promoting segregation by gathering too many white students in one place.

What Burkholder should have done is compare DC Prep to nearby traditional public schools. On that ground, it turns out that a 98% black charter school in a heavily black area of northeastern D.C. isn't that unusual. The closest traditional public school to DC Prep is Noyes Elementary, which is 96% black, 3% Hispanic, and all of zero percent white.

Yes, racial imbalance still exists. But attacking charter schools does nothing to get rid of it.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home