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Race to the Top? Critic says Education Plan Takes Advantage of Public School and State 'Desperation'

Charter School Report Finds Widespread Segregation, Including in Minnesota

Beth Hawkins

Charter schools are more racially isolated
than traditional schools in virtually every state and large city in the
country, according to a new report released by the University of
California at Los Angeles. In the Midwest, more than half of charter
students in 2007-2008 were black, in large part because charters are
most often located in urban settings, researchers at UCLA's Civil
Rights Project found.

In Minnesota, the report
[PDF] found, much of this segregation can be attributed to the fact
that many urban charters are targeted at students of a single race or
ethnicity. By contrast, in the western United States, where traditional
schools are typically more diverse, charters "are havens for white
re-segregation from public schools," researchers reported.

report comes at a time when public attention is focused on the Obama
administration's first marquee education initiative, the controversial
Race to the Top program. Forty states have applied for the federal
grants, which are intended to recognize efforts at innovation. Among
other things, the program includes financial incentives to expanding
the number of charter schools.

"The states are financially desperate and will
do almost anything to keep from firing teachers in the next couple of
years," UCLA Professor and Civil Rights Project Co-Director Gary
Orfield told Minnpost. "We think [the Obama administration] are taking
advantage of that desperation."

Charters do not have to
provide much of the programming traditional public schools are required
to offer, such as services to English-language learners. This results
in an unequal playing field. "We're not asking that charters be shut,
we're not asking that charters not be expanded," he said. "We're asking
that they be held to the same civil rights requirements."

More and more charter schools

publicly funded, privately operated schools have proliferated in
Minnesota since their creation here in 1991, in large part because many
inner-city schools have failed minority and low-income families. In the
last decade, for example, half of all children living on Minneapolis'
predominantly African-American north side have opted out of the city's
public schools in favor of charters and parochial and suburban schools.

Between 2000 and 2008, charter school enrollment has more than doubled to 1.2 million nationwide.

Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter
Schools, said the study's premise was miscast. "Segregation by
definition is a state action," he said. "Parents choosing the school
they want for their kids is not segregation."

Minnesota law says
charter schools cannot discriminate in terms of who they admit. But
because many of the state's charters tailor their curriculum to a
particular race or culture, they tend to draw students of a single
race. If those children attended traditional public schools they would
be more likely to learn alongside children of other races, the study

"In Minnesota, for example, Latino students comprise
eight percent of charter school students," researchers reported. "But
the typical Latino charter student attends a school where nearly half
of students are Latino, indicating much higher than expected shares of
students of their own race - and considerably higher isolation than
other Latino public school students in Minnesota experience."


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study drew on research released in 2008 by Orfield's brother, Myron
Orfield, the executive director of the University of Minnesota's
Institute on Race and Poverty and a longtime critic of the charter
movement, and on a 1999 federal report that found that charters in
Minnesota and five other states served higher percentages of students
of color than traditional public schools in those states.

the last few decades, some states have adopted educational funding
structures that allocate more money to educate students seen as being
more difficult to educate, so that schools can provide equal
educational opportunity for all students," the UCLA report noted.
"These reforms may have an unintended consequence for charter schools.

funding formula provides incentives for charter schools to attract
urban students because of the higher reimbursement for educating such
students," the report continued. "And, as seen above, more than 60
percent of Minnesota's charter schools are located in cities."

Hotly debated topic

performance is one of the most hotly debated issues in education policy
today. Critics, including both Orfields, contend that overall the
schools do not perform better than traditional schools. Proponents
counter that charters provide families with badly needed alternatives
to failing mainline schools and that many post excellent test results.

issue that seems to be the tension here is between the two basic
principles that exist in public education," said the Minnesota
Association of Charter Schools' Piccolo. "One is parental choice and
one is the integration of people in society. The question is how do you
balance those values?

"Parents choose schools to get their kids ahead," he added. "Segregation was a way of holding people down."

A second study
[PDF] released earlier this week found that charters operated by
so-called education management organizations - private corporations -
segregate by race, income, disability, and language.

student population is pushed out to the extremes," researchers at
Western Michigan University and the University of Colorado at Boulder
concluded. "Most charter schools were divided into either very
segregative high-income schools or very segregative low-income schools."

Beth Hawkins writes about education and other topics.


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