Are urban charters too black?

Critics complain that charter schools “pay more attention to student achievement than to racial diversity,” reports Heidi Hall for USA Today.

Urban charters often are located in high-poverty, high-minority neighborhoods with low-performing district schools. They attract few or no white or middle-class students. Black parents are the most likely to choose charters, which produce learning gains for disadvantaged students compared to district alternatives, CREDO studies report.

Urban charter students also are more likely to earn a high school diploma and enroll in college. Many parents choose charters with strict discipline policies because they’re safer.

Critics say there’s no such as thing as “separate and better.”

Cheryl Brown Henderson, the daughter of Brown v. Board of Education plaintiff Oliver Brown, disagrees. A former school guidance counselor, she runs a foundation devoted to studying the Brown case’s impact and improving education access for minorities.

Henderson said she doesn’t believe diversity should be a big concern for charter schools, and she questions whether traditional public schools ever truly reflected racial balance despite busing, rezoning, magnet programs and other efforts.

“It’s awfully arrogant for us to point fingers at people trying to ensure a world-class education access is afforded to all of our children,” she said.

Some new charter schools are trying to attract a mix of students, said Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans.  Bricolage Academy, a New Orleans charter is recruiting students of varying socioeconomic backgrounds. But the school district is 90 percent African-American, so racial balance is unlikely.

“Activists” complain that too many failing public schools in black neighborhoods are being closed and replaced with charter schools,” writes Juan Williams.

Thurgood Marshall, the lawyer who won the Brown case and later became a Supreme Court justice, told me as I was writing his biography that the case was not really about having black and white children sitting next to each other. Its true purpose was to make sure that predominantly white and segregationist school officials would put maximum resources into giving every child, black or white, a chance to get a good education.


“The flight to charter schools conforms with the Brown ruling’s central premise: that students should be able to attend the best public schools without regard to income or race,” argues Williams.

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  1. “Urban charters often are located in high-poverty, high-minority neighborhoods with low-performing district schools.”

    Well yeah. It’s called plucking the low-hanging fruit and is simply evidence of common sense on the part of charter operators.

    The rare well-performing district school has nothing to worry about from charters because parents aren’t stupid. If their child is doing well in a district school, of those lucky enough to attend those schools, there’s not much reason to transfer to a charter.

    As for the plaint about insufficient diversity, I defer to the parents of those kids. If they’re OK with an insufficiency of all-important diversity then I’m reminded that all those who obsessively wring their hands over inadequate diversity don’t have anywhere as much at stake as do those parents.

  2. Stacy in NJ says:

    Higher performing charters will attract non-black parents and students eventually.

    If your kid can attend a well organized, high performing school with high performing students racial diversity or a lack of it will have less weight in decision making.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      Add “safe” (or perceived safe) to your list. Parents also don’t want a long commute to the school. We sorta tried this in Kansas City, Missouri a few decades back.

      • palisadesk says:

        ” Parents also don’t want a long commute to the school.”

        Very, very true — particularly in the case of low-income parents. I find that few parents in the school communities I have worked in are willing to take advantage of school choice, even when the potential benefit to their child is huge. They are concerned about both the cost of transportation (the district pays for transportation for special ed kids and for some language immersion programs, but not for magnet and specialized or other choice programs) and the length of the commute. Most parents don’t have cars and in our latest school survey we found many students had responsibilities at home, either caring for siblings or older relatives, or helping in a family business like a dry cleaning place or night office cleaning. Thus vouchers would not help these families much because they would not cover transportation costs or solve the time (and perceived danger en route) problem.

        I find people are very committed to the neighborhood school concept. This may be a social/economic class difference though. We do have a lot of choice programs but they are overwhelmingly filled by middle- and upper-class students.