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.

60 years after Brown: Segregation now

Students at Barnard Elementary School in Washington, D.C., one of the first schools to desegregate after Brown. (Library of Congress)

Students at Barnard Elementary School in Washington, D.C., one of the first schools to desegregate after Brown. (Library of Congress)

Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education ended de jure segregation, how segregated are we? asks Alan Richard on the Hechinger Report.

“In many states and communities, including many in the South, where I’m from, black and white children — and now Latino children and others — attend school side by side,” he writes.

Yet, there are signs of resegregation, warns ProPublica.

In 1991, 33 percent of black students in the South attended schools with 90 percent or more minority enrollment — but by 2009-2010 that level had crept up to 38 percent. Back in 1980, only 23 percent of black students in the South attended such intensely segregated schools, the researchers found. Now, white students make up less than 30 percent of enrollment in schools attended by the typical black students — the highest that figure has been since federal monitoring began.

Some older blacks remember aspects of their segregated childhoods with “fondness,” reports NPR.

Carmen Fields, a media consultant in Boston, grew up in Tulsa in the 1950s. “We had our own grocery stores, black doctors, lawyers, dentists, hotel, movie theaters, shoe repairmen, our own segregated YMCA,” Fields says.

Because colleges wouldn’t hire black professors, some teachers in segregated schools were PhDs, Fields  recalls. “We had the best of the best, the talented 10th, if you will, and they expected the best of us.”

Resegregation now

May 17 will be the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision striking down “separate but equal” public education, notes Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic.  Another milestone will be reached in June: The end of the last school year in which a majority of K-12 public school students are white.

 That demographic transformation is both reinvigorating and reframing Brown’s fundamental goal of ensuring educational opportunity for all Americans. . . . the ruling provided irresistible moral authority to the drive for legal equality that culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts a decade later.

Yet many complain the decision didn’t really end school segregation, writes Brownstein. Inequality remains a problem.

Segregation Now looks at the resegregation of Tuscaloosa, Alabama schools after a court order was lifted.

The citywide integrated high school is gone, replaced by three smaller schools. Central retains the name of the old powerhouse, but nothing more. A struggling school serving the city’s poorest part of town, it is 99 percent black. . . .  Predominantly white neighborhoods adjacent to Central have been gerrymandered into the attendance zones of other, whiter schools.

No all-white schools exist anymore—the city’s white students generally attend schools with significant numbers of black students.  . . . (But)  nearly one in three black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened.

When all the city’s public students attended Central, the school racked up academic and athletic honors, writes Nikole Hannah-Jones for ProPublica. The dropout rate was less than half the state’s average.

The school was hardly perfect. Black students were disproportionately funneled into vocational classes, and white students into honors classes. . . . the white flight that had begun when the courts first ordered the district to desegregate continued, slowly, after the formation of the mega-school. But despite these challenges, large numbers of black students studied the same robust curriculum as white students, and students of both races mixed peacefully and thrived.

Many whites moved to county schools which are predominantly white or to private schools: only 22 percent of Tuscaloosa’s public students are white. Surveys showed whites would leave if a school’s black enrollment hit 70 percent. So school officials — with some black support — concentrated a third of black students in all-black schools in hopes of keeping other schools integrated.

Hannah-Jones makes the case that Central offers less to its top students than the city’s integrated high schools. She focuses on an honor student — also a star athlete and student body president — whose low ACT scores put any selective college out of reach.

D’Leisha’s grandfather went through segregated schools, served in the Air Force, then worked a blue-collar job. Her mother went to Central High at the peak of integration, went to college, dropped out to have a baby but returned to earn a degree from the University of Alabama. She worked as a teacher’s aide, but now earns more on an auto factory assembly line. She’s supporting four children as a single parent.

Resegregation now

Large and medium-sized “school districts in the South have steadily resegregated” when freed from court supervision, according to a Stanford School of Education study published in the fall issue of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

“Many of the gains that resulted from the Brown decision are being lost,” said Sean Reardon, a professor of education at Stanford and lead author of Brown Fades: The End of Court-Ordered School Desegregation and the Resegregation of American Public Schools.

Suburban schools are failing to integrate disadvantaged minority students, concludes a new book, The Resegregation of Suburban Schools, edited by Erica Frankenberg and Gary Orfield. “The United States today is a suburban nation that thinks of race as an urban issue, and often assumes that it has been largely solved,” write the editors. Not so.