Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Charters Contributing to Greater Segregation?

The Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice just released a new policy brief that points towards increasing segregation that may be caused by charter schools operated by education management organizations (EMOs).  According to the organization's website:

"This report, which is a comprehensive examination of enrollment patterns in charter schools operated by Education Management organizations (EMOs), finds that charter schools run by EMOs are segregated by race, family income, disabilities and English language learner status as compared with their local public schools districts."

The complete report can be accessed on the organization's website.  Here is a summary of the five key findings in this study:

• Charter schools operated by EMOs tend to be strongly racial segregative for
both minority and majority students as compared with the composition of the
sending district. Only one-fourth of the charter schools had a composition relatively
similar to that of the sending district.

• For economically challenged students, EMO-operated charter schools more
strongly segregate students than do their respective local districts. The student
population is pushed out to the extremes. Most charter schools were divided into
either very segregative high-income schools or very segregative low-income
schools. Between 70% and 73% of the schools were in the extreme categories
of the scale, depending on the comparison.

• EMO-operated schools consistently enrolled a lower proportion of special education
children than their home district. Past research has shown that charter
schools have less capacity for special education children. Thus, parents tended
to select away (or were counseled away) from charter schools. A small group
of charter schools focused on special needs children and were, consequently,
highly segregative in this regard.

• English Language Learners (ELL) were also consistently underrepresented in
charter schools in every comparison. While one-third of the EMO schools had
an ELL population similar to the sending district, the distribution was highly
skewed, with well over half the EMO schools being segregated.

• When examined for the years 2001 to 2007, the composition of the charter
schools trended closer to the public school district for each of the four demographic
groups examined. However, this phenomenon was an artifact of balancing
extremes. For both for-profit and nonprofit EMOs, the segregation patterns
of 2000-2001 were virtually identical to those in 2006-2007. Consequently,
a pattern of segregation attributable to EMO-operated schools is being

Michigan is one of the leading states as far as number of charter schools go.  Recent approved and proposed legislation take additional steps to protect charter schools from some of the same criticisms being thrown at traditional public school districts.  These include allowing charter schools to give preferences for enrollment from designated feeder schools and avoiding potential funding penalties when non-instructional costs exceed an arbitrary limit.  There are many other inequities within existing statutes and regulations but charter schools rarely draw the same scrutiny.

Many public school districts are willing to work alongside charters and private schools to ensure area students get the best possible choices that match their educational needs.  What we don't need though is more political posturing on behalf of the EMOs.  As the above findings point out, this can only lead to greater segregation in K-12 schooling.

Read what Dave Murray at The Grand Rapids Press has to say about the report.