Are charter schools too black?

Seventy percent of black charter school students have few white classmates, estimates a study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. From the Washington Post:

To the authors of the study, the findings point to a civil rights issue: “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 study concludes, “the rapid growth of charter schools has been expanding a sector that is even more segregated than the public schools.”

Racially segregated schools tend to be inferior, says UCLA Education Professor Gary Orfield, who oversaw the study. “The study recommended that federal and state governments push for racial diversification of charter schools,” reports the Post.

Should black students be denied a charter alternative unless enough whites want to attend the same inner-city school?

“We actually are very proud of the fact that charter schools enroll more low-income kids and more kids of color than do other public schools,” said Nelson Smith, president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, based in Washington. “The real civil rights issue for many of these kids is being trapped in dysfunctional schools.”

For all the complaints about skimming, charter schools disproportionately enroll the lowest-scoring students, inner-city African-Americans. Their parents have decided that a nearly all-black charter school is a better choice than the neighborhood school, which may be marginally more integrated (probably with Hispanics).  Whose civil rights are violated by letting parents make that choice?

Urban parents don’t care about so-called civil rights activists who work in ivory towers, live in suburbs, release reports on ‘segregation’ just in time for Black History Month (wink, nudge), and avoid the worst American public education offers,” writes Rishawn Biddle of Dropout Nation.

The study also complains that charters in Western states enroll somewhat more whites and fewer Hispanics than state averages. If one group, such as immigrant parents, is less likely to choose charters then other groups will form a larger percentage of enrollment.

The charter high school in my book, Our School, is now 96 percent Mexican-American, up from 83 percent (if memory serves) in the first year. Downtown College Prep has focused on educating the children of poorly educated, Spanish-speaking immigrants and, increasingly, that’s who chooses the school. I don’t see that as a problem.

About Joanne


  1. “Racially segregated schools tend to be inferior”.

    Should that be “racially segregated PUBLIC schools”? I suppose imposing racist quotas is more important to these people than letting kids get a decent education and thereby integrate into the large national society. After all, how will you keep them down on the plantation once they’ve learned to read?

  2. If the charter schools perform, if they provide a quality education, they’ll become intergrated. Middle income white, hispanic, and asian parents will enroll their kids in mostly black charters if they are academically and social superior to the local public schools regardless of the racial makeup. It’s already beginnng to happen in Newark, NJ charters.

  3. Why should charter schools integrate automatically just because they provide a quality education?  If the materials and style of the staff speak to students of a certain background, others may not be as well-served; for instance, working on English proficiency is so much wasted time for the average Caucasian suburbanite.  Those other students are likely to find that their desire for quality is best served by a school with a different set of emphases.

  4. Well Engineer-Poet, if one of your regrets in life is that you were born too late to take part in the Civil Right era then you take what you get in terms of opportunities to exercise your moral outrage.

    Racism’s also a handy way to beat up on a phenomenon you’re opposed to without looking too obviously self-serving; charter schools aren’t being attacked because they threaten a comfortable status quo you see but because they’re racist.

    I don’t expect this particular approach to get much traction politically because those who are to be saved from racism are very clearly unimpressed with the injustice from which they’re suffering. In fact, where this approach does get any political traction expect to see the “oppressed” siding vigorously with their “oppressors”.

  5. This is a joke right?

    My medium sized city has 1 charter school. It is 71% white in a city where the rest of the school population is 30% white.

    The next nearest charter school, in a similarly sized city 20 miles away, is 59% white, whereas the local school district is 35% white.

    But then again, if you actually look at the study:

    The study’s key findings suggest that charter schools, particularly those in the western United States are havens for white re-segregation from public schools; requirements for providing essential equity data to the federal government go unmet across the nation; and magnet schools are overlooked, in spite of showing greater levels of integration and academic achievement than charters.

  6. There are both types of charter schools. The first type, that Mike in Texas writes about, are charter schools that are selling their services to whites who want EITHER a better or less competiutive free school (depending on the environment). But in order to qualify as a charter, they need to have a certain amount of minorities. They bring in a lot of minorities freshmen year, knowing that attrition and expulsion will get rid of quite a few. By senior year, the schools are predominantly white. In all cases, they are more white than the surrounding public schools the white parents are trying to get away from. Summit is the classic example of this in the Bay Area–the white parents are either trying to get away from too-brown Sequoia (which is, by the way, an excellent school) or the hyper-driven Menlo Atherton (too hard to get As).

    The other type of charter school is the one described in the post–geared towards either black or Hispanic children, or both. However, Joanne is wrong in saying that these school don’t cherrypick. The parents who seek out these schools are different and the schools benefit from selection bias.

    I’ve never seen a charter school that didn’t fit one of these two patterns–maybe there are more “types” outside of the Bay Area.

  7. Summit Prep in Redwood City, the school Cal is talking about, is 48 percent white, 40 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian and 3 percent black, according to>Great Schools. It was indeed started by affluent white parents but they recruited working-class Hispanic parents who also wanted an alternative.

    All the charter schools started in the San Jose area are predominantly Hispanic.

  8. The real problem with charter schools is that about two-thirds of them have worse test scores than the comparable traditional public schools.

  9. Either of you two late-to-the-party Freedom Riders want to come up with a lick of evidence that the charter schools are discriminating on the basis of race why feel free to do so.

    Oh, and as a point of information, the cherry-picking goes on in magnet schools; charters don’t enjoy that luxury.

  10. Don Bemont says:

    It would be best to step back a bit in order to get some perspective.

    The whole idea here is to give parents choice. Whether it’s “charter schools” or a “voucher system” or some new terminology to come, the idea is that maybe we would get better education in our country if we spent some of our tax dollars on schools chosen by parents. So let’s assume for a moment that the new system takes off, and robust choice becomes a reality.

    If the engine behind the idea is to let parents choose, then who here believes that different kinds of parents will not make different kinds of choices? If you listen to the critics of public schools for even a few minutes, you know that they are united only in their negative judgments; they have extremely different visions of what schools should look like. Some want the three Rs and others want maximum freedom for their children, some want the Ten Commandments and some want social consciousness.

    Further, is there anyone here who disbelieves that these choices will tend to break along demographic lines? Not only because that is human nature, and not only because our internet society is becoming more segmented, but because that is the way marketing works, and schools will be marketed.

    Now, no one is going to tell me that racial demographics won’t have a significant impact on who chooses which school. On the other hand, I suspect that other demographic divides will also be very important.

    In my mind, the question is whether this will leave us better off or worse off. In return for the right to send my kid to a school that I can hand pick to suit my philosophy of life, am I willing to see my tax dollars also go to support schools that actively promote values I disagree with? Or, in a less self-centered vein, do I think my country will be better off due to the added competition, or do I think my country will be weakened by the further division of our society? Yes, mostly black or mostly white schools constitute one example of this latter possibility, but not necessarily the most important one.

    However, I suspect that all this overlooks the most crucial demographic division that school choice would highlight, the one at the root of so many of our educational problems: There will be schools for families that care about education, and there will be schools for those who don’t. Anyone who is positive whether that would be a good or bad thing hasn’t thought through the long term implications very thoroughly.

  11. Mark, if you’re referring to the CREDO study, it found 37 percent of charter schools have lower test scores than comparable traditional schools. About half the charter schools in the study were new; the study found scores dip in a charter school’s first year and rise in the second and third years.

  12. Math Teacher says:

    Thank you Don Bemont! Well said!

  13. Joanne,

    Following your link, and the statistics you posted from it, Summit Preparatory Charter High School IS skimming students.

    How innovative is that?

    In additon, the CREDO study found another 46% found charters, despite the skimming of students and involved parents, have tests scores indistinguishable from the local public schools.

    Wow, the innovation!

  14. Cal, you need be better informed on Summit as well as the surrounding public schools.

    Sadly, neither Sequoia nor M-A are the strongholds you believe. To its credit, Sequoia has doubled its college-ready rate: it’s now up to 30%, but a far cry from where it should be. And M-A 72% white college ready cohort easily exceeds your white flight hypothesis. Wall Street Journal did a expose on this issue 10 years ago and it is still true.

  15. Mike in Texas,

    Pray tell, what leads you to conclude skimming? Testimony before the public high school board demonstrated that there was no discernable difference between the incoming Summit and Sequoia district freshmen classes.

    Difference did emerge in sophomore and junior classes as all students were learning at Summit – leading to this foot-in-mouth moment for Sequoia Superintendent:

  16. Jeez Don, you think you could be more prolix?

    Come on, this isn’t rocket science. Parents want what’s best for their kids.

    Since it’s widely-held that education is a good way to achieve that “best” parents will want a good education for their kids. The school that produces good results will attract parental attention as well as the attention of the schools that suffer due to their lack of competitive quality.

    If that choice tends to break along demographic or racial lines, so what? If people want to self-segregate then I’m not concerned. As long as no one’s engaging in coercion then where’s the harm and where’s the foul? A little study of history shows that absent that coercion self-segregation is leaky and gets progressively leakier there being no real value is “stickin’ ta yer own kind” in the absence of forced segregation and the violence used to enforce it.

    The solution to the problem of kids from families in which education isn’t valued isn’t found in the district system. Problem kids, kids from families in which education isn’t valued, usually get short shrift. The solution to that problem isn’t found in districts. As long as charters don’t do worse it’s a net gain.

  17. Chris,

    I’d be happy to explain it to you.

    Skimming means you set up a system to make sure your charter schools receives only the most motivated students and the most involved parents.

    For example, you might set up a lengthy application/interview process, thereby insuring little Johnny’s meth-head Mom won’t be trying to enroll her student.

    Or, you could enroll a much smaller percentage of non-English speaking, non-Special ed, or non-white students, i.e. my local charter school.

    You might also demand parents volunteer X number of hours at the school each month, too bad for the aforementioned little Johnny.

    You may choose to remove students from school enrollment for non-suitable academic performance (see KIPP charter schools, or perhaps Joanne’s much touted Downtown College Prep, where students who can’t meet their rigorous academic standards “may return to a regular public school).

  18. It was indeed started by affluent white parents but they recruited working-class Hispanic parents who also wanted an alternative.

    Don’t make it sound so noble. If Summit couldn’t at least pretend to “reflect the surrounding community”, they couldn’t qualify for state funding. Of course they recruited Hispanics. They didn’t recruit enough at first, and have been under constant pressure to recruit more.

    Sequoia, the school nearby, has 65% Hispanics and the same percentage qualifying for free lunch. And those numbers are consistent all four years, for the most part, whereas Summit’s demographics change dramatically depending on the class examined. The freshman class is over 50% Hispanic, but it drops from there.

    Sadly, neither Sequoia nor M-A are the strongholds you believe.

    I actually taught at Sequoia. I’m well aware of its problems. It is, nonetheless, an excellent school for its demographic (I include the qualifier that I thought was understood the first time).

    As for MA, if I am reading you correctly, you interpreted my comments as saying that MA is not a predominantly white school. Not at all. Again, I am well aware of MA’s population. However, I have also tutored at least ten boys from Summit from the M-A district over the years, and they fit a certain pattern–bright, idiosyncratic, and not terribly hardworking. They pull down easy As at Summit, but would have Bs and Cs at MA–because of other, far more competitive students (mostly white). All of them are going to far better colleges than they would have if they’d stayed at MA. (Which brings up another point: Summit grading is a joke, but that’s another story.)

    Again, I am very familiar with all three schools. I student taught at Sequoia for a year, but also taught test prep courses to low income students who came from Sequoia for three years. I tutor students at both M-A and Summit. I am well aware of the debate between Summit and Sequoia, and that Summit exists only because the state keeps interceding on its behalf, over the stated preferences of the school district.

    I don’t particularly care for charter schools, but am not revved up one way or the other. I do think the whole “parents should have a choice” rhetoric is nonsense. Public schools are a social good, and parents really don’t “deserve” a choice for taxpayer dollar funded activity. But I’m not opposed to them, nor do I have a dog in the fight.

    Of course, nothing you’ve said contradicts my basic point: California charter schools generally meet one of the two patterns I describe. If it’s not a majority minority charter serving whatever dedicated student/parent combinations it can find, it is a school started by white parents in a majority/minority school who want a cheaper alternative than private school.

  19. Don Bemont says:

    “The school that produces good results will attract parental attention as well as the attention of the schools that suffer due to their lack of competitive quality.”

    Allen, I’m skeptical of this claim. YOU might value high standardized test scores and take that as the final arbiter of where to send your children, but others will follow their own values — schools for parents who currently seethe at the teaching of sex education and evolution, schools for parents who seethe at abandonment of the classics, schools for parents who feel their ethnic heritage should take precedence, schools for parents who feel limits and discipline scar their children’s natural creativity, schools for parents who are angry that their children are expected to learn English at the expense of the tongue spoken at home… Maybe even schools for parents who believe in jihad…

    If we are going to move towards paying for others’ choices, we cannot go into it pretending that everyone is going to make their choices on the same basis your or I would.

  20. Mike has to engage in the “you might do this” and “you might do that” dodge because he knows charters aren’t selective.

    They’re either first-come-first-served or to avoid parents spending two or three nights camped out on the charter’s doorstep, by lottery. It’s district schools that set up a “lengthy application/interview process” to keep the riff-raff out. Of course it’s the district *magnet* schools that use that cherry-picking selective process but why should you be burdened with all that unnecessary information? You could come to the wrong conclusion.

    Of course as every sturdy defender of the district system must, there’s the defense of the institution over the needs of the individual student.

    That’s why it’s necessary to portray chucking out disruptive students as a bad thing. In a district school the disruptive kids are the teacher’s problem since a borderline sociopath and a Westinghouse scholar represent the same revenue to the district. If the disruptive kid interferes with the education of the entire rest of the class is that any skin off the nose of the principal or superintendent? Not hardly. There’s time to deal with the kid when he assaults someone.

    But these sorts of arguments really aren’t that important. What is important is that the old model is starting to fall apart. Why in Texas an effort to raise the cap on the number of charters, set at 215 schools, was killed in the legislature. But that’s only a problem for the 17,000 Texas kids languishing on waiting lists to get into charters. Do the sturdy defenders of the status quo that’s no problem at all.

  21. I wish I had a dime for every disruptive kid the private Catholic schools kicked out who landed on my doorstep. They end up doing OK for the most part. Was a little worried about the one expelled for hurling desks at the teacher, but all for naught. We got on fine. At the rate these schools are closing in this fine Catholic town, perhaps they should send their teachers to me for a little PD so they can hang onto some of this tuition money. Hmm. Seems the free market around here is actually narrowing choice.

    Some parents will make good decisions; many will not. In any case, historically, looking around my area — people will absolutely self-segregate — and fast. It’s called white flight, my friend, and it only took the school district I live in ten years to flip from 80/20 white::black to 20/80.

    I’m a great fan of choice, but I don’t see any point in turning a blind eye to the new problems it creates. Nothing is without unintended consequences. Best to try to anticipate them and plan for them.

  22. Math Teacher says:

    Bravo Lightly Seasoned & Don Bemont…

    The fact that parents must go to the effort of throwing their name in the hat for a lottery to avoid camping out on the doorstep of their charter-of-choice makes the system of enrolling in charters selective, plain and simple.

    Marginalized families, including illegal immigrants, the illiterate, the very poor, the meth-heads, the petty criminals, etc. are not likely the ones in line at the first-come, first-served charter school. But you can bet they are dropping their offspring off every day at their local take-all-comers, no-questions-asked, free daycare, regular public school. And it seems in the free-market world, the number of those who are marginalized is on a steady ascent.

    Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons? Are there no regular public schools?

  23. Hmm, Texas has a Republican controlled state legislature and a Republican governor. When we had a Republican president they were more than happy to follow along with any nonsense Bush and Co. demanded, including NCLB, and charter schools. Now that a Democrat is in the White House they have suddenly remembered “states’ rights”.

    Allen, I’m not sure then what arguement you are trying to make. I’m not aware of any district run charter schools in Texas, my local charter being run a university and the next nearest being run by a private group.

    Oh wait, we’ve had these arguements before. Allen is trying to blame teachers in general. Don’t forget to throw in those terrible teachers’ unions, which just don’t happen to exist in Texas.

  24. Hmmm, NCLB passed the U.S. House 384-45 and the Senate 91-8 so the Democrats, including some pretty well-known Democrats, thought it was a peachy idea. Partisanship had almost nothing to do with the passage of the law and not much to do with its reception by the states. The states were more then happy to take all those nice, federal dollars but not so willing to abide by the terms of the agreement under which those federal bucks were forked over. So the “states rights” issue you’re alluding to started when NCLB passed which was in 2002.

    What I’m referring to is your intimation that charter schools can select kids. They can’t and you know it so you have to try to create the impression that charter schools are selective. Selectivity’s an option for magnet schools which are district schools.

    Yes, we have had these arguments before. Fortunately, people like you who see the public education system as first and foremost, your meal-ticket are losing the fight to maintain your comfy status quo. Like I wrote above and you studiously ignored, the effort to raise the ludicrously low cap on charters in Texas goes on as it does in most of the rest of the states in the union and nowhere is the genii being put back in the bottle.

    Given the state of the economy you should concern yourself with the possibility that some legislator – those are the people who shouldn’t have any say over the public education system according to you – will notice that charters are significantly cheaper to run then district schools. Oooh, then it’s Katie bar the door, hey Mike?

  25. Charter schools can’t select students?

    That assertion is so dumb as to be hilarious!

    Thanks for the laugh!

  26. > That assertion is so dumb as to be hilarious!

    Whoops, a little more name-calling there. Well, nothing new in that is there Mike?

    By the way, if you had a lick of evidence that charter schools anywhere can select student’s you’d have posted it.

    Who’s laughing now?

  27. Math teacher has addressed this issue, as have I. Charter schools benefit from selection bias. They also benefit from being able to expel kids who don’t meet their behavior standards.

    These are facts regardless of what particular side of the debate you take.

  28. Kirk Parker says:


    Bush and Co.

    Oh, please. You and I both know that should read “Bush and Ted Kennedy”.


  1. […] as segregated (and often, even more segregated) no matter where we go. Joanne Jacobs also offers a compendium of the arguments (including those by your friendly neighborhood editor). And, by the way, here is a […]