The Civil Rights Project (UCLA) annual report, Choice Without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards calls the charter school movement a major political success but a civil rights failure. The report is especially timely given the upcoming June 3rd election in LA School Board District 1 where charters schools are a prominent issue. It also stresses Black students are far more likely to be harmed by segregation than any other group. For this, and several other achievement-related reasons, the report is important for District 1 that has LAUSD’s largest concentration of Black students. To increase public awareness of its findings, excerpts from the Civil Rights Project report follow:
“Our analysis of the 40 states, the District of Columbia and several other metropolitan areas with large enrollments of charter school students reveals that charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the nation.
While charter schools are increasing in number and size, charter school enrollment presently accounts for only 2.5% of all public school students. Despite federal pressure to increase charter schools—based on the notion that charter schools are superior to traditional public schools in spite of no conclusive evidence in support of that claim—their enrollment remains concentrated in just five states. We show charter schools, in many ways, have more extensive segregation than other public schools. They attract a higher percentage of Black students than traditional public schools, in part because they tend to be located in urban areas. As a result, their enrollment patterns display high levels of minority segregation, trends that are particularly severe for Black students.
At the national level, 70% of Black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools or twice as many as the share of intensely segregated Black students in traditional public schools, by far the highest percentage of any other racial group.
Major gaps in multiple federal data sources make it difficult to answer basic, fundamental questions about the extent to which charter schools enroll and concentrate low-income students and English Language Learners (ELLs). Charter schools are public and, therefore, should be equally available to all students regardless of background. However, approximately one in four charter schools does not report data on low-income students. Since eligibility for receiving free lunch is proof that families cannot afford to provide it, the lack of a free lunch program at school would impose a severe economic barrier to attending a charter school. In general, state charter school legislation is less likely to contain requirements for enrolling ELL students than for racial balance or diversity standards. The lack of data on each of these traditionally underserved groups makes it difficult to assess charter schools as an educational reform or monitor their compliance with basic civil rights regulations and state charter school legislation.
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. In the State of the Union address, the President recognized the persistent link between segregated neighborhoods and schools, saying, “In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential.” Ironically, charter schools held an early promise of becoming more integrated than regular public schools because many are not constrained by racially isolating school district boundary lines. This report shows instead that charter schools make up a separate, segregated sector of our deeply related stratified public school system.
The Obama Administration should take immediate action to reduce segregation in charter schools, and work instead to achieve their integrative promise. The Education Department should update its guidance on civil rights regulations for charter schools and strengthen it by including provisions known to have been successful in other programs like magnet schools, which combine school choice with high-quality diverse student bodies. And new legislation is needed to ensure enough information about charter school students id collected so that student access and outcomes by race, class and language ability can be monitored. More should be done to strengthen and support magnet schools and charter schools to draw students across boundary lines. States should also work to ensures diversity considerations are part of the charter approval process and exercise stronger oversight of existing charter schools.
As the country continues moving steadily toward greater segregation and inequality of education for students of color in schools with lower achievement and graduation rates, the rapid growth of charter schools has been expanding a sector that is even more segregated than public schools. We know that choice programs can actually increase stratification and inequality depending on how they are designed. The charter school effort has been justified by claims about superior educational performance, which simply are not sustained by the research. Though there are some remarkable and diverse charter schools, most are neither. The lessons of what is needed to make school choice work have usually been ignored in charter school policy. Magnet schools are the striking example of how to create educationally successful and integrated choice options.
Spread the word about this important report.