Newspaper article MinnPost.com

A New Round of Segregation Plays out in Charter Schools

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

A New Round of Segregation Plays out in Charter Schools

Article excerpt

In keeping with national demographic shifts, the Twin City suburbs have been growing more diverse in recent years, with an increasing African-American and Hispanic population. But that diversity is not always reflected in the area schools.

At Seven Hills Classical Academy, a charter school in Bloomington, Minn., for instance, 80 percent of the student body is white, compared to 57 percent in the Bloomington Public School District. Indeed, the number of predominantly white charters in the Twin Cities metro area has risen from 11 in 2000 to 37 in 2010.

Charter schools and their proponents point out that charters must take any student who wants to attend - and randomly select students through a lottery if too many apply - and, as such, can't control who enrolls. Still, some experts are concerned that this trend is an example of the next phase of white flight, following a long history of white families seeking out homogeneous neighborhoods and schools.

School choice was once seen as a means of helping to diversify schools in spite of residential segregation. But in practice, researchers have found charter schools to be segregated as well. While much attention and research on charter-school segregation have focused on predominantly black schools located in cities, pockets of mostly white charters are popping up in diversifying suburbs.

In the Delaware's suburbs, for instance, a handful of independent charter schools have attracted large numbers of white families seeking to skirt an unpopular busing program. One study found that nearly all of the state's charter schools enroll either more than 70 percent white students or virtually none at all. In the Cleveland suburbs, a charter network known as Constellation Schools, which enrolls a disproportionately small percentage of black and Hispanic students, has grown to more than 23 schools over the past 13 years.

The Civil Rights Project at the University of California Los Angeles, which has documented charter-school segregation for years, has found that in several western and southern states white students are disproportionately represented in charter schools. These patterns "suggest that charters serve as havens for white flight from public schools," says a 2010 report from the group.

Different views on trend's significance

But educators and policymakers are divided over the significance of the trend: Charter critics say the movement has fostered a rise in the number of racially isolated schools while others maintain that schools like Seven Hills are symptomatic of enduring self- segregation throughout America's education system now manifesting itself through parental choice.

"We have a long history of families and communities segregating themselves," said Andre Perry, the associate director for educational initiatives at Loyola University's Institute for Quality and Equity in Education in New Orleans. "It's somewhat wrongheaded to say that charter schools are an impetus for segregation. The people are the impetus for segregation."

Still, Myron Orfield, director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota and a prominent charter- school critic, says that charters worsen the problem.

"Charters are either very white places or very non-white places," he said. "[Charters] are an accelerant to the normal segregation of public schools."

No simple explanation

Parents and educators say there's no simple explanation for why Seven Hills' demographics do not reflect those of the surrounding school districts. The K-5 school draws from multiple school districts with dozens of elementary schools with varying levels of diversity. Most of the neighboring school systems have a similar or smaller percentage of white students enrolled than Seven Hills does, ranging from 82 percent to 30 percent. Some white parents at Seven Hills said they were concerned about the lack of diversity, but made their decision to enroll based on the academics. …

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