This blog started as a dialogue on the Facebook page of a friend whose ed-policy perspectives and knowledge I greatly admire and appreciate. Call him Respected Pundit. He was reviewing an op-ed on Choice Without Equity: Charter School Segregation, a study out of UCLA which contends that the growth of charter schools has fostered school segregation nationally, especially for African-American students.
RP's take: Charter schools should not be judged on their demographics. Parents choose charter schools, knowing the racial makeup of the student body, because they offer a better academic program. Ergo, an integrated study body is less important to minority parents than getting a good education.
OK. But when we're talking about something as complex and critical to the national well-being as public education, an either-or choice of integration vs. good schools is unacceptable. Here's the real question: Shouldn't all Americans be concerned about promoting racial and economic equity?
Aren't public schools the cornerstone for achieving this goal? Do we need a study to tell us what happens when the dangerous gap between haves and have-nots continues to expand?
Comments on RP's Facebook page and a response from Education Next are predictably centered on perceived methodological flaws in the study. My research is better than your research; my people have larger grants and bigger names than your people. Meanwhile, kids keep going to schools--terrible schools, lottery-admission schools, better choices and no choice at all.
Wake County, NC, is one of the few places in the country that has had some success--including a 94% parent satisfaction rate--in attempting to genuinely integrate students, both racially and economically, in its public education system. I have a number of friends who teach in Wake County; they're among the sharpest and most articulate teachers I know.
They're proud of Wake County's diversity policy, although some of them admit that test scores might be higher in their buildings if 4700 students return to schools in their more/less advantaged neighborhoods, per the recent School Board decision. And they're all appalled by the remarks of John Tedesco of the Wake County School Board:
"If we had a school that was, like, 80 percent high-poverty, the public would see the challenges, the need to make it successful. ... Right now, we have diluted the problem, so we can ignore it."
Isn't "diluting the problem" our goal? Aren't we supposed to be chugging along toward a more equitable society? Are we comfortable promoting non-diverse charters that concentrate students of poverty into clusters to be educated?
A friend who works in a high-functioning charter in Detroit told me that the charter was established to serve the poorest kids in Detroit. When it opened, the open enrollment process attracted lots of students from nearby suburbs whose parents worked in Detroit and could provide transportation into the city. In fact, access to transportation turned out to be the dividing line between the working-class kids who ended up there and the smaller number of truly disadvantaged kids the school was supposed to be serving.
The first set of baseline state assessment scores were higher than anticipated at the charter--leading to worries that there wasn't much room for the impressive growth needed to meet their publicly posted benchmarks. After everyone relaxed a bit, they decided that a mixed group of kids from middle-class, working-class and deep-poverty families was likely to be a good medium for academic growth.