“Segregation” Says the Times Union on Charter Schools

September 8th, 2010

Martin Luther King III and Honorable Arthur O. Eve at Albany's Brighter Choice Charter School for Girls

By B. Jason Brooks

The loaded term “segregation” was recently discussed by the Albany Times Union (here) with respect to charter schools.  Though the story later acknowledged that charter schools are indeed schools of choice, it set the tone in the very opening sentence in a hatchet-job, declarative fashion: “Albany’s charter schools have created a second school system that is almost entirely segregated.”

Of course, Albany’s charter schools do not “segregate” anyone.  It’s not policy, and it’s illegal.  Yet, the story uses this loaded term as if to equate modern-day charter schools that are sought by racial minorities as schools of choice to school districts in the old confederacy that discriminated on the basis of race for many decades.

The story also clumsily cites the University of California at Los Angeles Civil Rights Project as an authority on the subject of charter schools and so-called segregation, even though this group’s recently study on the subject was heavily criticized (here) as “remarkably shoddy” for comparing individual charter school demographics to entire school district data.  The fatal flaw is that school districts themselves have zoned areas determining what schools that students must attend.  In places like Albany, this leads to a wide range of percentages of minorities in individual schools, even in a city where four out of five public school students is black or Latino.

While charter schools indeed serve a higher percentage of racial minorities than the school district as a whole, the charters are located in the neighborhoods where black and Latino families primarily reside.  Accordingly, district schools in those same areas have a comparable percentage of minority students.  For example, the Brighter Choice Charter School for Girls serves 94 percent minority students and the district’s Sheridan Preparatory school just a few blocks away serves the same percentage of minority students.

By contrast, district schools like Eagle Point Elementary and New Scotland Avenue Elementary only serve about 42 percent minority students, even though the district itself serves 80 percent minority students.  Are we to assume these schools discriminate by serving insufficient numbers of minorities?  Rather, it is the result of where students live, though certainly the district must always be mindful to ensure equality of resources and faculty expertise among its schools – something urban districts in New York and nationally have routinely failed at ensuring.

Drop This Faulty Issue Already

The “segregation” issue in charter schools is a canard that should be dropped already.  Charter schools in New York are not mandatory on any student or family, and the vast majority of them are outperforming district schools in the percentages of students meeting state academic standards.  The “segregation” issue has no place and has been thoroughly debunked by authorities in this area who themselves are no strangers to segregation.

Martin Luther King, III, for example, visited the Brighter Choice Charter School for Girls and the Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys and extolled the schools’ success for young minority students (here).  “I commend [Brighter Choice’s] for your outstanding contributions in helping our children fulfill their potential.”  King went on to say:

“Like the American civil rights movement, [Brighter Choice’s] efforts to education what I like to refer as exceptional children as opposed to ‘at-risk’ is about liberation – liberation from prejudice; liberation from socially-imposed limitations; and liberation of the dignity, capabilities and potential for excellence that dwells in the heart of every human being, regardless of their personal attributes and/or economic environment.”

Throughout the past year, the “segregation” attack on charter schools reared its ugly head from charter opponents during the state legislature’s debate on charter schools leading up to it raising the allowable number of schools.  An effective rebuke of this attack was published last April in the New York Post (here), co-authored by former Milwaukee Schools Superintendent, Howard Fuller; and former D.C. councilman Kevin Chavous, both of whom were co-founders of the national Black Alliance for Educational Options.

It’s time to move from this dubious subject.

B. Jason Brooks is director of research at the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability and may be followed on Twitter at @bjbrooksNY.

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