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.

Memphis gives up on bootstraps reform

Memphis is giving up on bootstrapping better schools and merging with the whiter, wealthier suburbs, writes Sarah Garland of Hechinger Report in The Atlantic. That could threaten “no excuses” pilot schools and other reform strategies, she writes.

Manassas, an all-black, nearly all-poor school, has a lot going for it: a new building, a new set of intensely dedicated teachers who willingly work on Saturdays, and the attention — and money — of national foundations and advocacy groups, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

. . . Last year, 111 of 131 seniors who applied to college were accepted. (The graduating class was 150.) The previous year, only 25 graduating seniors had been accepted.

A new city-suburban board will run the new district.

In part, the merger is about money. Under a 1982 law, suburban funding has flowed to Memphis schools, but the legislature is poised to repeal the law. “By choosing to dissolve into the wealthier surrounding district, the board essentially decided to give up the school district’s autonomy in order to keep the funds rolling in.”

Memphis school board members and administrators also hope to close the achievement gap by mingling “students, teachers, and the involved parents who help drive suburban success,”  Garland writes.

“The gap closes when folks go to school together, when they play together, when they’re in afterschool programs together, and when they live in the same communities together,” (Memphis Superintendent Kriner Cash) says.

But will white, middle-class suburban parents send their kids to urban schools with low-income, black students? History says no. In 1973, when a federal court ordered busing to desegregate schools, many whites “fled for the suburbs or private schools.”  Though nobody’s proposing involuntary busing this time around, some suburban towns are talking about forming their own districts. “Both opponents and advocates have warned that many white families could move out of the county altogether,” Garland writes.

 

To bus or not to bus

To improve the performance of low-income students, Wake County, North Carolina’s largest district, uses busing to integrate its schools by socioeconomic status. One in six students is bused at a cost of $541.56 per student.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the second largest district, runs neighborhood schools that serve affluent kids in the suburbs, poor kids in the downtown. Millions of extra dollars go to improve high-poverty schools.

Which system works better? According to the Raleigh News & Observer, both systems are equally unsuccessful.

Only 28 percent of Wake students come from low-income families; more than half are poor in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.  Wake County’s achievement gap between whites and blacks and between low-income and middle-class students is wide.  So is Charlotte’s achievement gap. The numbers are very similar.

Some Wake County parents want to end busing and switch to the Charlotte system.