The charter school movement has been a major political success, but it has been a civil rights failure. 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 the public schools. The Civil Rights Project has been issuing annual reports on the spread of segregation in public schools and its impact on educational opportunity for 14 years. We know that choice programs can either offer quality educational options with racially and economically diverse schooling to children who otherwise have few opportunities, or choice programs can actually increase stratification and inequality depending on how they are designed. The charter effort, which has largely ignored the segregation issue, 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 choice work have usually been ignored in charter school policy. Magnet schools are the striking example of and offer a great deal of experience in how to create educationally successful and integrated choice options.
Seven years after the Civil Rights Project first documented extensive patterns of charter school segregation, the charter sector continues to stratify students by race, class and possibly language. This study is released at a time of mounting federal pressure to expand charter schools, despite on-going and accumulating evidence of charter school segregation.
Our analysis of the 40 states, the District of Columbia, and several dozen 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 examples of truly diverse charter schools exist, our data show that these schools are not reflective of broader charter trends.
Four major themes emerge from this analysis of federal data. First, 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--charter school enrollment remains concentrated in just five states.
Second, we show that charter schools, in many ways, have more extensive segregation than other public schools. Charter schools 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, charter school enrollment patterns display high levels of minority segregation, trends that are particularly severe for black students…
Third, charter school trends vary substantially across different regions of the country. Latinos are under-enrolled in charter schools in some Western states where they comprise the largest share of students. At the same time, a dozen states (including those with high concentrations of Latino students like Arizona and Texas) report that a majority of Latino charter students attend intensely segregated minority schools. Patterns in the West and in a few areas in the South, the two most racially diverse regions of the country, also suggest that charters serve as havens for white flight from public schools. Finally, in the industrial Midwest, more students enroll in charter schools compared to other regions, and midwestern charter programs display high concentrations of black students.
Fourth, 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 receive public funding and therefore should be equally available to all students regardless of background. 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. There is a similar lack of information on ELLs…
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Charter schools movement a civil rights failure: UCLA Civil Rights Project study
CHOICE WITHOUT EQUITY: CHARTER SCHOOL SEGREGATION AND THE NEED FOR CIVIL RIGHTS STANDARDS; January 2010; The Civil Rights Project of UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies