May 2012; Source:Poverty & Race Research Action Council and The Century Fund

Try this on for size: America’s public schools are more segregated now than they were in the 1950s. According to an Alternet article from 2010, “Today, one-third of black students attend school in places where the black population is more than 90 percent. A little less than half of white students attend schools that are more than 90 percent white. One-third of all black and Latino students attend high-poverty schools (where more than 75 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch); only 4 percent of white children do…In 1990 more than 40 percent of black students in the South were attending majority-white schools. Today, fewer than 30 percent of students do — roughly the same percentage as in the late 1960s, when many districts were still refusing to implement 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education.”

Has this nation sort of quietly given up on the benefits of racial integration in education? A new report from the new report from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRAC) and The Century Fund (TCF) raises questions about the charter school movement, stating that, in many cases, charter schools are structured to “have high concentrations of poverty and large numbers of minority students.” According to their statistics, “the nation’s charter schools are more likely than traditional public schools to be high poverty (51–100 percent of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch), extremely high poverty (76–100 percent free and reduced-price lunch), or racially isolated for minorities (90–100 percent of students are racial minorities).” The authors ascribe this, in part, to education policy and to the funding priorities of foundations which emphasize the charters focusing on racial and poverty concentrations. 

Is the separate but (in theory or in self-promotion) superior schooling offered by charter schools really an inferior option that falls prey to the Brown v. Board of Education finding that “separate but equal” is really “separate and unequal?”

PRRAC and TCF argue for racially and economically diverse charter schools, citing the following factors: (1) the “civic, social, and cognitive benefits” for students who attend socio-economically and racially integrated schools; (2) given the mixed and often disappointing results regarding academic gains for pupils in charter schools, the “numerous studies (that) have shown that low-income students generally perform better in middle-class schools”; and (3) what they describe as “a chance to experiment and broaden the base” by developing pedagogical approaches to educating diverse student populations and thereby attracting suburban parent support for the charter school model.

Their suggestions for creating racially and socio-economically diverse charter schools include strategies such as intentionally locating charter schools where they might attract and be accessible to a diverse population, using targeted student recruitment, weighted admissions, deploying “a variety of curricula and pedagogies,”  and instituting programs that embrace a diverse school culture.

PRRAC and TCF are very philanthropically savvy outfits, and as a result they aren’t shy about identifying the roles that foundations, as major proponents of the charter school movement, have played in fostering segregated charter schools and what they might do to make charters more racially and economically integrated. This isn’t the first time that the issue of charter school re-segregation has been raised as a topic of public and philanthropic policy. Do NPQ Newswire readers see the lack of diversity in charter schools as a Brown v. Board of Education-like problem or as a necessary step toward the academic liberation of students in poor, racially concentrated neighborhoods?—Rick Cohen