Can Charters and Equity Goals Coexist?

Judy Hartnett's picture
Thursday, February 23, 2012

While our society is more diverse than ever before, schools are more segregated today than they were 30 years ago. School choice policies that allow children to enroll in schools outside of their neighborhood have the potential to reduce segregation and many of the inequities that flow from that segregation. Yet some of the nation's most segregated K-12 schools are public charter schools.

A new report from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), Chartering Equity: Using Charter School Legislation and Policy to Advance Equal Educational Opportunity, written and researched by Julie F. Mead of the University of Wisconsin and Preston C. Green III of Penn State, offers guidance on how charter school policies can best be shaped to promote equity goals.

More than 5,400 charter schools in 40 states as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico enroll some 1.7 million students. The expansion of charters has been promoted by the No Child Left Behind act, as well as by the Obama administration's Race to the Top policy, and the charter segment is growing rapidly. Advocates contend that charters give poor families new opportunities to choose better schools for their children, just as the wealthy have had choices of either moving to other school districts or paying for private schools.

But skeptics argue that the growth of charter schools has led to the stratification and isolation of students by race, class, special education status, and English language learner status. This consequence of school choice has undermined key national goals of inclusion and integration. "Further, 43 percent of black charter school students attended schools that were 99 percent minority," Mead and Green write. By contrast, less than 15 percent of black students in traditional public schools attend such highly segregated schools.

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