MILWAUKEE -- An Associated Press analysis has found that charter schools are among the nation's most segregated -- an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools.
National enrollment data show that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minority groups study in the most extreme racial isolation. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation's 6,747 charter schools had minority-group enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.
The problem: Those levels of segregation correspond with low achievement levels at schools of all kinds.
In the AP analysis of student achievement in the 42 states that have enacted charter school laws, along with the District of Columbia, the performance of students in charter schools varies widely. But schools in which 99 percent of enrollees belong to minority groups -- both charters and traditional public schools -- on average have fewer students reaching state standards for proficiency in reading and math.
"Desegregation works. Nothing else does," said Daniel Shulman, a Minnesota civil-rights attorney. "There is no amount of money you can put into a segregated school that is going to make it equal."
Shulman singled out charter schools for blame in a lawsuit that accuses the state of Minnesota of allowing racially segregated schools to proliferate, along with achievement gaps for minority-group students. Charters owned by minority groups have been allowed wrongly to recruit only members of those groups, he said, as others wrongly have focused on attracting whites.
The charter school movement born a quarter of a century ago has thrived in large urban areas, where advocates say they often aim to serve students -- by and large, minority groups -- who have been let down by their district schools. And on average, children in hyper-segregated charters do at least marginally better on tests than those in comparably segregated traditional schools.
For inner-city families with limited schooling options, the cultural homogeneity of some charters can boost their appeal as alternatives to traditional public schools that are sometimes seen as hostile environments.
They and other charter supporters insist that these are good schools and dismiss concerns about racial balance.
Araseli Perez, a child of Mexican immigrants, sent her three children to Milwaukee's Bruce-Guadalupe Community School, which is 97 percent Hispanic, because she attended Milwaukee Public Schools and she wanted something different for her children. The schools in her family's neighborhood are more diverse racially, but she said race was not a factor in her decision to enroll her children at the charter school 5 miles away.
For decades after the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that segregated schools were unconstitutional, integration was held up as a key measure of progress for minority groups, but desegregation efforts have stalled and racial imbalances are worsening in American schools. Charter schools have been championed by the U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and as the sector continues to grow it will have to contend with the question of whether separate can be equal.
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools spokesman Vanessa Descalzi said today's charters cannot be compared to schools from the Jim Crow era, when blacks were barred from certain schools.
"Modern schools of choice with high concentrations of students of color is a demonstration of parents choosing the best schools for their children, rooted in the belief that the school will meet their child's educational needs, and often based on demonstrated student success," Descalzi said. "This is not segregation."
Charter schools, which are funded publicly and run privately, enroll more than 2.7 million students nationwide, a number that has tripled over the past decade. Meanwhile, as the number of non-charter schools holds steady in the U.S., charters account for nearly all the growth of schools where minority groups face the most extreme racial isolation.
While 4 percent of traditional public schools are 99 percent minority groups, the figure is 17 percent for charters. In cities, where most charters are located, 25 percent of charters are over 99 percent nonwhite, compared with 10 percent for traditional schools.
Information for this article was contributed by Michael Melia and Jocelyn Gecker of The Associated Press.
A Section on 12/03/2017
Print Headline: Charters linked to racial isolation