In a study of ethnic and class stratification in fifty-five urban and fifty-seven rural charter schools in Arizona done for the Education Policy Analysis, a nonprofit think-tank some ten years ago, researchers noted that nearly half the charter schools studied exhibited evidence of substantial ethnic separation (Cobb and Glass 1999, 1). They concluded that subtle exclusionary practices among charter schools, including initial parent contacts and the provision of transportation, had an appreciable affect on ethnic and racial segregation in charter schools:
The ethnic separation on the part of Arizona ’s charter schools, though de facto, is an insidious by-product of unregulated school choice. If parents can choose where to send their children to school, they are likely to choose schools with students of similar orientations to their own. Moreover, it is well documented that choices (in this case, charter students and parents) differ from non-choices in several meaningful ways, which further contributes to the stratification of students along ethnic and socioeconomic lines. (Cobb and Glass 1999, 1)
In North Carolina, when the state legislators years ago were debating charter schools it was feared there would be a recurrence of the flight of white academies that had been a historical part of the South a generation earlier in the aftermath of the Brown decision. In approving the charter idea, the legislators put a clause in the legislation that required the schools to reasonably reflect the demographics of the school districts they serve. Yet two years after passage of the legislation, twenty-two of the state’s charter schools appeared to violate the diversity clause (Dent 1998). The irony lies in the fact that the law is being violated by charter schools that are 85 percent black and populated by children whose parents sought to flee the failing public schools.
The charter school movement is having the effect of re-segregating schools in North Carolina , and thus they pose a legal and social dilemma. Many policymakers are asking how, if the charter school movement is really going to be a public choice reform, can that be accomplished without re-segregating schools? Or can it? And where charter schools are located in predominantly black neighborhoods, how can they be centers for diversity if few white parents want to send their children to schools located in those neighborhoods? So aren’t the charter schools charlatans and their well-heeled supporters really targeting inner city kids, the ‘sub-prime’ kids? After all it is a volumes game, isn’t it and as all good marketers know cornering the market is what it is all about. So, much like Pay Day loans charters appear to be a part and parcel of what was once called a ‘fringe economy’ but is now the economy.
How Charters Increase Racial and Ethnic Stratification
Racial and ethnic segregation and stratification can happen subtly: in the way the schools are organized, how they state their mission, and the symbols and signifiers they use to attract students. For example, in a suburban charter school in California , the founders created a high-tech image and orientation for the school. This emphasis permitted marketing strategies to attract students whose parents worked in the technology industry, which, in turn, resulted in the procurement of more computers and software for the school through grants and donations. So you wouldn’t see their advertisements on buses in inner city urban areas, for they marketed to a different, more elite crowd. Creating an ideological mission for the school along with the symbols of technology and computer literacy meant that this charter school could subtly give the message of who belongs at the school—who will fit in and who will not (Wells et al. 1999, 22). And this is the point, it is a form of gentrification and social dislocation as the isnispidd individualism rampant in the caverns of the American mind looks for simplistic individual solutions to social problems and this causes social breakdown, dis-association.
In a recent report entitled ‘False Promises’, published by The Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota (ironically the state where the charter school movement was first launched), the study found through an exhaustive examination and thorough study that charters in the Twin Cities not only continue to perform worse than traditional public schools, but that they are more segregated than traditional public schools and are forcing those traditional public schools themselves to become more segregated. Why? A purview of the report, released in November of 2008, is enthusiastically unhesitant in its portrayal of the growing problem of increased segregation and the assumed accompanying issues of underachievement:
Charter school proponents promoted charter schools as a means to improve the performance of students who would otherwise have no choice but to attend failing traditional public schools. They claimed that families of means always had school choice—they had the financial resources to either send their children to private schools or to move to better neighborhoods with higher quality public schools. Advocates of charter schools promised that charter schools would extend the same school choice to low income parents and parents of color, who were stranded in low-performing traditional public schools. They further pledged that by severing the link between segregated neighborhoods and segregated schools, charter schools would liberate low-income parents of color from the racially segregated traditional public schools they attended. Overall, they claimed that charters would promote a race to the top for all parties that were involved.
This study finds that in Minnesota charter schools failed to deliver the promises made by charter school proponents. Despite nearly two decades of experience, charter schools in Minnesota still perform worse on average than comparable traditional public schools. Although a few charter schools perform well, most offer low income parents and parents of color an inferior choice—a choice between low-performing traditional public schools and charter schools that perform even worse. The study finds that other public school choice programs such as The Choice is Yours Program offer access to much better schools than the charter schools in Minnesota .
The analysis also shows that charter schools have intensified racial and economic segregation in Twin Cities schools. A geographical analysis shows that the racial makeups of charter schools mimic the racial composition of the neighborhoods where they are located. This contrasts sharply with the claim that charter schools would sever the link between segregated neighborhoods and schools. On the contrary, the data show that charter schools are segregating students of color in non-white segregated schools that are even more segregated than the already highly-segregated traditional public schools. In some predominantly white urban and suburban neighborhoods, charter schools also serve as outlets for white flight from traditional public schools that are racially more diverse than their feeder neighborhoods (False Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in Twin Cities Institute on Race and Policy website 2008).
The report also looked at Twin Cities school racial make-ups, and it includes a map that plots out all the metro area charter schools. It clearly shows demographically that segregated schools far outnumber integrated schools and in some cases, predominately white schools are surrounded by a moat of predominately non-white schools (ibid). You can go online and see the map at the website above.
The Evidence for Segregation by Charter more Norm than Aberration
Unfortunately this empirical evidence of segregation is more norm than aberration. In their comprehensive study, Charter Schools and Race: A Lost Opportunity for Integrated Education, Erica Frankenberg and Lee Chungmei, both of Harvard University , evidenced the same troubling patterns found by The Institute on Race and Poverty report:
Segregation is worse for African American than for Latino students, but is very high for both. In some states, white student isolation in charter schools is as high as that of African Americans. The problems reported here may not be due either to the intent or the desires and values of charter school leaders. They may reflect flaws in state policies, in enforcement, in methods of approving schools for charters, or the location where charter schools are set up (Frankenberg and Lee 2003).
Charter schools and race: A lost opportunity for integrated education. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 11(32).
In 2003, the Delaware State Board of Education and Delaware Department of Education hired an Evaluation Center from Arizona State University to assess the state’s charter schools and charter school reform efforts from 2003 to 2006. The report was presented to the Delaware State Board of Education by Dr. Gary Miron, the Evaluation Center ‘s chief of staff and the study’s project director at Arizona State University . In addition to Miron, Anne Cullen and Patricia Farrell, also of the Evaluation Center, and Dr. Brooks Applegate, West Michigan University’s professor of educational leadership, collaborated on the project and jointly authored the 226-page report. The final report, issued after a three-year, $150,000 evaluation of Delaware ‘s charter school movement, summarizes findings across the Delaware charter schools. The report concludes that the charter schools have resulted in re-segregation and disparities between mostly white and mostly minority charter schools. The study goes even further, stating it:
found “substantial differences in student demographics,” both among charter schools and also between charter schools and surrounding traditional public schools. On the whole, the study finds that traditional public schools have higher percentages of low-income students, students with special education needs and students who have limited English proficiency (WMN website 2007).
(http://www.wmich.edu/wmu/news/2007/04/014.html Some Delaware charter schools segregated, unequal April 4, 2007 WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University.
Even more recently, in a report in the Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC) entitled Are Charter Schools More Racially Segregated Than Traditional Public Schools?, published in 2007, author Yongmei In made several key findings from her analysis of the Michigan charter school experiment. She summarizes her findings:
(1)Although charter school students were more racially diverse at the state level than those in Michigan’s traditional public schools, not all charter schools are more diverse; (2) Depending on where their students come from, charter schools had very different effects on racial segregation. Charter schools drawing students mainly from the districts in which they are located tended to be more racially segregated than their host districts, while charter schools drawing students from outside the host districts show some positive evidence toward racial integration; and (3) The effects of charter schools on racial segregation vary across districts depending upon their degree of racial segregation. While charter schools drawing students from segregated districts show no further racial segregation, charter schools drawing students from racially diverse districts are more segregated than these districts (In, ERIC website 2007).
(Are Charter Schools More Racially Segregated Than Traditional Public Schools? Policy Report 30. 2007-03-00 ERIC http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/Home.portal?_nfpb=true&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED430323&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&_pageLabel=RecordDetails&accno=ED498628&_nfls=false&objectId=0900019b80201c86
She concludes that if diversity in charter schools is an important goal for policymakers, the state legislature and charter school authorizers could encourage charter schools to adopt racial integration as a major goal of their recruitment process. But it seems it is not a goal of the enlightened politicians. Money is the goal, profiting off kids is the means.
In their 2007 granular examination of segregation and the impact of charter schools, Suzanne Eckes and Kelly Rapp, in a report entitled Dispelling the Myth of “White Flight”: An Examination of Minority Enrollment in Charter Schools, examined data of reported student body diversity in the 32 states that enroll more than 1,000 students in charter schools (as of 2002-2003). They came up with the following finding:
at the outset of the charter school movement, some opponents feared that charter schools would become havens for White students wishing to flee the traditional public school system, resulting in publicly funded segregation. However, studies suggest that this has not occurred. In fact, charter schools on average remain slightly racially segregated, enrolling more minority students than traditional public schools (Eckes and Rapp 2007).
Eckes, Suzanne E. Educational Policy, v21 n4 p615-661 2007 http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/Home.portal?_nfpb=true&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED430323&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&_pageLabel=RecordDetails&accno=EJ772715&_nfls=false&objectId=0900019b80189026).
The authors continue, arguing:
Segregation in charter schools is not unavoidable considering that they often can exercise more control of student body composition through recruitment measures. (ibid)
The article details a disappointing set of findings regarding its central question — namely, that charter schools are largely more segregated than public schools and segregation is much worse for African American than for Latino students. But this makes sense, first of all America is a segregated country and second of all, capital seeks customers and where can they find the most, large urban areas where disenfranchised youth sit idly in public schools that could be charterized. According to the study, in some states white student isolation in charter schools is as high as that of African Americans. Going on, the authors note:
The justification for segregated schools as places of opportunity is basically a “separate but equal” justification, an argument that there is something about the schools that can and does overcome the normal pattern of educational inequality that afflicts many of these schools. Charter school advocates continually assert such advantages and often point to the strong demand for the schools by minority parents in minority communities, including schools that are designed specifically to serve a minority population. It is certainly true that minority parents are actively seeking alternatives to segregated, concentrated poverty, and low-achieving public schools. White parents have also shown strong interest in educational alternatives as evidenced by the strong demand for magnet schools (ibid).
Voluntary Segregation from the Public Realm
Yet as Chungmei Lee and Erica Frankenberg argue, the high level of racial segregation in charter schools is really not a big surprise when viewed in light of the existing segregation in many aspects of American life. Nor is their argument regarding re-segregation something to be taken lightly. They go on to claim that those who think that charter schools are inherently likely to be free of racial inequality need to reflect on the racial consequences of other market based approaches to life operating in such areas as housing, employment, health care, the provision of public transportation, opportunity and availability of health care, climbing prison populations, percentage of foreclosures and home ownership and the list could go on. Here, it can be argued, as both Harvard professors do, that markets have worked more to perpetuate and spread racial inequality rather than to confront it and cure it. From the authors’ point of view:
One could accurately say that the normal outcome of markets when applied to a racially stratified society is a perpetuation of racial stratification. This is why early educational choice programs were often found to produce white flight from integrated schools and to contribute to segregation in many school desegregation trials. Those experiences were apparently unknown or overlooked by designers and supporters of many charter school policies (ibid).
Many parents and their political constituencies, from home-schoolers preferring to segregate from the public forum altogether, to religious and ethnic advocates for charter schools there is a increased mobilization to use charter schools and charter school legislation as a means to actually voluntarily segregate from others in the public realm, either by gender, race, religion, cultural or ethnic focus.
Take for example, the passage of a bill in January of 2008 changing Delaware ‘s charter school law to allow single-gender schools. The bill was passed in the state House, with legislators reaching a compromise to assure it provides equal protection and would not be vulnerable to constitutional challenge. The bill sailed on through the legislature to eventually achieve passage in the senate, despite some opposition. Delaware Rep. Diana McWilliams, D-Fox Point, questioned:
“I am very concerned that this be a very slippery slope back to segregated schools.”
She wondered aloud why “segregation of a gender” is a good thing. The bill’s passage clears the path for a middle school targeting at-risk boys (Kenney and Miller 2008).
(http://www.delawareonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080123/NEWS/801230363/1006/NEWS Charter gender bill OK’d in House Legislation would allow all-boys, all-girls options By EDWARD L. KENNEY and J.L. MILLER • The News Journal • January 23, 2008
The New ‘Identity Charters’: More Voluntary Segregation
Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy charter school is located in Minnesota and has mostly Muslim students. In fact, Minnesota has many ethnically focused or culturally focused charter schools, servicing not just Muslim students but also Christians and Hmong students. The rational for such segregated schools can be best summed up by the director of the Hmong charter school in Minnesota , who commented:
Yes, with our focus on culture, language and achievement, we create an environment with a sense of community, of trust, of respect, of valuing education. I’ve worked in the big traditional schools, and that same sense is not there for many of our families. Our kids and parents feel welcome because they see the displays of their culture and values of respect, responsibility. They see staff people who look like them. I’m Hmong; they can relate to me. It makes a huge difference. In this environment, give them time and kids achieve. Our school is making AYP [annual yearly progress, a reporting measure required by federal No Child Left Behind rules], and we had no discipline problems at all last year. How many schools can say that? Yes, with our focus on culture, language and achievement, we create an environment with a sense of community, of trust, of respect, of valuing education. I’ve worked in the big traditional schools, and that same sense is not there for many of our families. Our kids and parents feel welcome because they see the displays of their culture and values of respect, responsibility. They see staff people who look like them. I’m Hmong; they can relate to me. It makes a huge difference. In this environment, give them time and kids achieve. (False Promises website 2008) November 2008).
Re-segregation or voluntary segregation within and by charter schools continues to grow, as can be seen by an examination of the The Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men, located in Chicago and Ben Gamla Charter in New York , as discussed in chapter four. Now, with the controversial opening of the Ben Gamla Charter School, by its parent company, Academica, Inc., the trend currently seems to be the exercise of legislative leniency on behalf of law makers, politicians and charter school authorizers to the idea of religiously oriented charter schools, gender oriented charter schools, ‘class’ oriented’ charter schools and ethnically or culturally focused charter schools.
Take for example the state of Rhode Island . Pressed by the Governor, education officials agreed in early 2009 to change the way they approve applications to open public charter schools, giving a higher priority to proposals that serve low-income and disadvantaged students in low-performing school districts. By ‘courting’ charter schools as an answer to low income student achievement rather than working to strengthen existing TPS isn’t the Governor of the state further stratifying the school system by social class? In other words, wouldn’t this be the same thing as having one side of a traditional public school classroom set up for one social class, divided by a large panel and another side set up for middle and upper social classes? Not according to officials from Rhode Island who agreed to change the way they approve applications to open public charter schools, giving a higher priority to proposals that serve low-income and disadvantaged students in low-performing school districts. To do this the Governor of the state proposed a budget that sets aside $1.5 million for new charter schools in the 2009-10 school year. Yet, argue opponents of the idea, isn’t this am example of the state subsidizing class stratification? (Jordan 2009). Sure it is, it is neo-liberal economics socially engineering the state of schools and thus the states of mind that will dialectically parallel them. The politicians pass the laws the market needs, the privateers do the rest. Then the ideological hustlers sell it to an information starved public satiated on Cheaters and American Most Wanted.
(http://www.projo.com/news/content/charter_school_criteria_change_04-30-09_LPE78_v20.36ab0dc.html State wants new charter schools to serve low income Thursday, April 30, 2009 By Jennifer D. Jordan
Journal Staff Writer PROVIDENCE
In fact, serving low-income students is now one of the growing missions and reflects the realities of many charter schools set up for specifically this purpose. Where once the practice of ‘creaming’ the best students concerned those opposed to the development of charter schools – ‘creaming’ meaning charters would take only the best academically qualified or prepared students — the continued development of the charter school concept has now extended to serving particularly ‘low income and low performing’ students. One can argue, and many proponents of the idea like the Governor of Rhode Island do, that this effort is a worthwhile attempt to reach students who are low income and low-performing academically in traditional public schools. The notion of a charter school actually saving struggling groups of low income students has become an all too familiar theme among politicians, as evidenced by Rhode Island’s recent decision and the explosion of hundreds of charter schools seeking to serve low income students; and this has become especially alluring to low income parents who argue their children are caught in a vicious cycle in TPS.
The Real Issue Is Capitalism and the ravages for the many
But opponents to such an idea would argue that politicians, business interests and Departments of Education throughout the states that have legislated charter schools are really playing a shell game with the American people and not broaching the real problem that plagues society and schools. They argue that not only will charter schools not solve the problem of failing schools, but that they serve to stratify citizens along racial, ethnic, and social class. The real answer, echo these opponents, is full funding for all public schools for the decades of proven methods of educational reform: smaller class size, smaller schools, comprehensive pre-school for three- and four-year-olds, after-school and in-school tutoring and enrichment programs and mentoring for those who need them, state-of-the-art school buildings equipped with updated books, materials, equipment, technology and caring, well-trained educators who have the needed experience for the job are also needed. Furthermore societal poverty, not to mention the fact that one out of every fifty children in the US is homeless, simply does not support the academic development of children and thus issues of economic equity and economic policies that encourage the eradication of social poverty must be faced when confronting public education reform (Kozol, 2006).
What does support academic development of children, argue opponents to the idea of class or race based segregated charter schools, are decent living wage jobs, available health care, senior care, day care and affordable housing along with full access to public transportation. These are all part of the kind of sustainable environment that would support a positive family life and the cognitive development of all children. Arguing that public schools need to transform into charter schools that target low income students (usually of color) to be innovative and creative, is a red herring. After all, doesn’t public education works in many suburbs throughout the nation without any problems? And if it does, then it begs the question as to why we need special segregated enclaves for less fortunate students, again usually students of color. Why can’t a decent, quality public education be the right of every citizen regardless of socio-economic class, race, gender or ethnicity and not simply the privilege of the wealthy? One cannot help but see the similarities behind calls to help ‘low income’ students through charter schools and the sub-prime housing loans directed at the ‘low-income’ wage earners. Eyeing the ‘low charter school income market’ or subprime loan market seems to have paid out handsomely for the many investors and business interests involved. But what about students and their parents?
Resegregation: Loss of Civil Life?
The notion of segregation by class, race, ethnicity, or gender is all very disturbing to many progressive educators who argue that religious, gender and racial segregation (not to mention virtual segregation by ‘virtual charters’) can only serve to damage pluralism and diversity in education. This, they say, not only flies in face of the Brown vs. Board of Education court decision but vitiates the hundred of millions, if not billions of dollars and hard work spent by the states historically to desegregate schools and depressingly harkens back to an ideology of ‘separate but equal’. Perhaps Erica Frankenberg and Chungmei Lee, both from Harvard University , put their finger on the problem when they write:
The justification for segregated schools as places of opportunity is basically a “separate but equal” justification, an argument that there is something about the schools that can and does overcome the normal pattern of educational inequality that afflicts many of these schools. Charter school advocates continually assert such advantages and often point to the strong demand for the schools by minority parents in minority communities, including schools that are designed specifically to serve a minority population. It is certainly true that minority parents are actively seeking alternatives to segregated, concentrated poverty, and low-achieving public schools. White parents have also shown strong interest in educational alternatives as evidenced by the strong demand for magnet schools (Frankenberg and Lee 2003 website).
(Volume 11 Number 32 September 5, 2003ISSN 1068-2341 Charter Schools and Race: A Lost Opportunity for Integrated Education Erica Frankenberg Harvard University Chungmei Lee Harvard University http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v11n32/).
Lee and Frankenberg make the point that one might think that charter schools would have a better chance to be integrated than public schools. They argue that like magnet schools a generation earlier, charter schools can offer distinctive curricula and the opportunity to create and manage schools with freedom from many normal constraints in large districts. Yet, as they state, unlike magnet schools, charter schools have the added advantages of even greater freedom to innovate, they are unleashed from any regulations and backed by huge philanthropists who can outmaneuver and out-lawyer the best of them and market their ‘services’ to kids in all geographical areas. Nor, for the most part, are charter schools tied to geographically fixed attendance boundaries in residentially segregated communities as are neighborhood public schools but they can draw from wherever interested students can be found (though it must be mentioned that in some places where school districts grant charters, they are limited to the school district boundaries) (ibid).
In light of this disturbing trend towards class based, gender based and racial based segregation we see one more reason why charter schools are now the unleashed Chimera that is in the process of replacing what many of us once new as public schools, in the future perhaps leaving what is left of the public sector to the most disenfranchised of students that even the charter schools charlatans don’t want.
Chungmei Lee and Frankenberg, “ Charter Schools and Race: A Lost Opportunity for Integrated Education” E .Volume 11 Number 32 September 5, 2003ISSN 1068-2341 Harvard University Harvard University . Website: http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v11n32/.
Cobb, C., and G. Glass. Ethnic Segregation in Arizona Charter
Schools. Tempe , AZ : Education Policy Analysis, January 1999.
Dent, D. “ Diversity Rules Threaten North Carolina Charter Schools that Aid Blacks.” New York Times, 23 December 1998.
False Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in Twin Cities Institute on Race and Policy website: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2008/11/26_charter_school/charterreport.pdf.
Eckes,S and K. Rapp. “Dispelling the Myth of “White Flight”: An Examination of Minority Enrollment in Charter Schools.” Educational Policy. v21 n4 (2007): 615 – 661
Frankenberg and Lee. “Charter schools and race: A lost opportunity for integrated education.” Education Policy Analysis Archives, 11(32). 2003
Jordan, J. “State Wants New Charter School To Serve Low Income” April 30, 2009 Website: http://www.projo.com/news/content/charter_school_criteria_change_04-30-09_LPE78_v20.36ab0dc.html
Kenney, E. and J.L. Miller. “Charter Gender Bill OK’D in House Legislation Would Allow All-Boys, All-Girls Options” The News Journal (January 23, 2008) Website:
Kozol, J. The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. Three Rivers Press, (August 1, 2006)
In, (ERIC) website: Are Charter Schools More Racially Segregated Than Traditional Public Schools? Policy Report 30. (March 2007) http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/Home.portal?_nfpb=true&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED430323&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&_pageLabel=RecordDetails&accno=ED498628&_nfls=false&objectId=0900019b80201c86.
Wells, A., A. Lopez, J. Scott, and J. Holme. “Charter Schools as Postmodern Paradox: Rethinking Social Stratification in an Age of Deregulated School Choice.” Harvard Educational Review 69, no. 2 (Summer 1999).
WMN website: Some Delaware Charter Schools Segregated Unequal. April 4, 2007. Website: http://www.wmich.edu/wmu/news/2007/04/014.html