Twin Cities (MN) region charter schools (poor performance, segregation issues)

FAILED PROMISES: ASSESSING CHARTER SCHOOLS IN THE TWIN CITIES; November 2008; Institute on Race and Poverty, University of Minnesota Law School 

This report finds that charter schools in the Twin Cities metro have not served the students of the Twin Cities metro well. Charter schools in the region are performing worse than the traditional public schools academically (measured by test scores) and socially (measured by segregation rates). Other choice programs—the Choice is Yours in particular—offer students of color and low-income students access to better-performing, less segregated schools. In some areas where the schools are more racially diverse than their neighborhoods, charter schools segregate white students as well in white-segregated charter schools, acting as an avenue for white flight. Finally, charter school competition hurts the traditional public school system because it has led to ethnic-based niche competition. Traditional public schools in the Twin Cities metro have responded to charter competition either by creating district-sponsored ethno-centric charter schools or by initiating ethno-centric programs and magnet schools within their school districts. Overall, charter school competition in ethnic niches has been particularly detrimental for students of color and low-income students because this type of competition deepens the level of racial and economic segregation in the traditional public school system.

Many of the problems associated with charter schools result from the fact that there is no legal mandate to socially and economically integrate charter schools. Charter schools do not have to be segregated; on the contrary, they should more proactively integrate the region’s students across social and economic fault lines. Currently, in Minnesota charter schools are exempt from the state’s desegregation rule that applies to other public schools. As a result, they do not participate in the state’s School District Integration Revenue Program, which distributed around $79 million in integration revenue funds to 80 school districts in 2005. At a bare minimum, charter schools, which are much more segregated than the region’s traditional public schools, should be subject to the same desegregation and integration standards as traditional public schools. Charters are, after all, public schools and receive tax-payer funding.

However, simply subjecting charter schools to Minnesota’s existing desegregation rule is unlikely to reduce social and economic segregation in these schools because in its current form the rule does not effectively promote integration in the traditional public school system. The main problem with the existing rule is that it is simply intended to increase “racial contact” among students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, rather than to actually decrease the extent of racial segregation in schools. 

In the name of promoting “racial contact,” school districts have used integration revenue funds to do a wide array of things ranging from one-day multicultural events to interdistrict magnet schools and cross-district transportation. The majority of these activities have achieved very little to encourage the physical integration of school districts, schools, and classrooms. The purpose of the rule should be changed from merely promoting “racial contact” to unambiguously and proactively supporting the actual integration of school districts, schools, and classrooms.

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