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Why the Racist History of the Charter School Movement Is Never Discussed
March 15, 2012 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Touted as the cure for what ails public education, charter schools have historical roots that are rarely discussed.

A 2010 report by the UCLA-based Civil Rights Project, "Choice without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards (PDF)," uncovers some troublesome facts in this regard. “While segregation for blacks among all public schools has been increasing for nearly two decades, black students in charter schools are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in intensely segregated settings. At the national level, 70 percent of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools (which enroll 90-100 percent of students from under-represented minority backgrounds), or twice as many as the share of intensely segregated black students in traditional public schools.”
posted by Blasdelb (38 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Touted as the cure for what ails public education

A citation would be helpful here.

Isn't funding the solution for what ails public education, being lack of funding?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:40 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is it just me, or is the case linking Brown V Board of Eduction segregationist schools with modern-day charter schools tenuous at best in the above-the-fold article linked in this FPP? I'd swear I've read the article about five times now, but I don't really seen the similarity between the two outside of the segregationist schools and charter schools being somehow outside of the public school system.

I think the data is just starting to come in on charter schools and they're finding that in general they don't work any better than public school systems for educating children. (I haven't done any direct research before posting this comment, but I remember hearing something of this sort recently. Anyone who has better knowledge, I'm welcome to be proven wrong.)

But overall, the idea that a racist-motivated school system 50 years ago had the ideal of some kind of tuition vouchers and sought to establish segregated schools on that basis is somehow linked to today's charter school system doesn't seem to be well supported by the lead article in the FPP.

I think the second link in the FPP makes a much stronger case for the racial difficulties in today's charter school program, and perhaps this FPP would have been better made by leaving out the first link entirely.
posted by hippybear at 10:04 PM on March 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


At the national level, 70 percent of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools (which enroll 90-100 percent of students from under-represented minority backgrounds), or twice as many as the share of intensely segregated black students in traditional public schools.

This is not very useful without data on what the corresponding numbers were for public schools before the charter school trend.
posted by Anything at 10:09 PM on March 15, 2012


I worked, briefly, for a charter school operator, years ago before I went to college. And I can say this. The local schools were probably about 60/40 white/black with a smattering of other minorities. The charter schools were already over 90% black at that point. They had overwhelmingly pushed for the parents of very low-performing kids to send their kids to these charter schools, with almost no evidence that the kids were actually improving outside the public school system. (I thought it was a mistake when I pulled up a roster and found a number of ten-year-olds in one second grade class. It wasn't.) And the charter system's priority was lining the pockets of the owners, not academic achievement--a decade or so later, a whopping two of the 12 K-8 schools they run were rated "effective" last year, an achievement they trumpeted all over their website like that was a fantastic thing.

The management company? At the time, pretty much everybody above the clerical level was white. I was really uncomfortable with the whole thing.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:12 PM on March 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


Hippybear, I have only glanced at the linked article, so your critique of it may be spot on.

However, my understanding of the propaganda in favor of charter schools - "we can do better without all this federally mandated meddling!" - is equivalent to my understanding of the propaganda in favor of separatist education systems: "we can do better without all this federally mandated meddling!"

The author or the article may not have expressed this persuasively or accurately, but in my opinion, yes, charter schools are a direct expression of American racism. I doubt that I have expressed this persuasively, but I don't really care whether or not I have changed an opinion among those who read this. My objective was to express my own.
posted by mwhybark at 10:38 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, for Pete's sake.

ERRATUM

...author of the article...

Is there a way to turn off autocorrect in iOS? When it contextually alters correctly typed two character words, it is clearly not acceptable.
posted by mwhybark at 10:41 PM on March 15, 2012


However, my understanding of the propaganda in favor of charter schools - "we can do better without all this federally mandated meddling!" - is equivalent to my understanding of the propaganda in favor of separatist education systems: "we can do better without all this federally mandated meddling!"

Don't most of the public school regulations come from the state instead of the federal government? If the comparison then is with 'we can do better than with the existing regulation', is there any kind of deviation from existing standards in any area that can't be associated with racism by that logic?
posted by Anything at 10:54 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


At the national level, 70 percent of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools (which enroll 90-100 percent of students from under-represented minority backgrounds), or twice as many as the share of intensely segregated black students in traditional public schools.”

I wouldn't mind this if it were correlated with better educational outcomes. This is alluded to on pages 12, 13, 14, and 15 but infuriatingly, the educational outcome statistics are not cross-referenced with any of the segregation data in the rest of the study. You wouldn't guess from looking at the tables that outcomes for bilingual education in California tend to be better for charters than public schools, for example (p12).

The study is still a worthy read. The alternet article, meh.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:08 PM on March 15, 2012


Yeah, the fact that at one point in time some people who happened to be racist also hit upon this idea doesn't make the idea itself racist. It's not surprising that charter schools would have have heavily black populations since the original plan was sold as a way to help black people who were being specifically under-served by the public schools.

The problem with charter schools is that they're not actually any better then traditional public schools. It may be that when charter schools first got started, the few that were around performed better due to the fact that the people most motivated to prove the idea could work were running them. But now that they are more common, it turns out they don't work better at all.

They seem to be premised on the idea that the "Private Enterprise" can just do things better. It's kind of similar to saying the "free market" can do things better, but it's not exactly the same thing, because publicly financed charter schools aren't actually an example of the "free market". Charter schools don't really compete with each other, they're more like they're local monopolies, like the cable company. (Although I suppose there might be some areas with multiple charter schools)

It's almost like they're just saying "If we allow for-profit schools, greedy people will come run them. And greedy people will just do things better then people motivated by altruism or a steady paycheck" - But that's ridiculous. Greedy people will optimize their take-home pay, not the education output. If they can make a bigger profit by giving a crappy education and pocketing the difference, they'll do so.

The other problem is that the free market works based on a sort of Darwinian principle, where companies that don't make money die out, and those that do come in and take their place. But if you're talking about schools, it could take years for that process to lay out, and most of a kid's education will have taken place at a failing school. That's obviously a huge problem.
Don't most of the public school regulations come from the state instead of the federal government? If the comparison then is with 'we can do better than with the existing regulation',
Yeah, charter schools have nothing to do with avoiding the federal government, in fact, it's been the federal government (or at least federal republicans) who have been pushing them. I looked it up, and no child left behind requires:
Information. Under No Child Left Behind, school "report cards" are made available to parents and all taxpayers. Data is disaggregated to show overall student achievement as well as the performance of student groups once left behind.

Choice. Parents with children in Title I schools marked "in need of improvement" for two consecutive years have the option to transfer to another public school within the district, including a public charter school. President Bush's proposed $100 million America's Opportunity Scholarships for Kids program would permit parents of students in schools that have not made Adequate Yearly Progress for six or more years to transfer them to a private school of their choice.
It's weird how many people seem to think Education is done by the federal government in the U.S. People point out the size of the military budget compared to the Dept. Ed and say we spend more on war then education, but that's actually not true at all: We actually do spend more on schools.
posted by delmoi at 11:29 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


This article is over the top button pushing. Charter schools and school competition deliver measurable results. Defending the status quo by invoking Brown is insulting.
posted by Pants! at 11:49 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Over the top button pushing [sic]? Charters deliver measurable results? Invoking Brown is insulting? Newt, is that you? Don't you have a moonbase to go build or something?

Meanwhile, back in the real world, first rule of journalism I was taught as a reporter way back in 19-Dickety-Three, was: "Follow the money." So, you know, follow the money.
posted by AirBeagle at 12:42 AM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Want to buy better edit function. First link in my previous post should have gone here. Mea culpa.
posted by AirBeagle at 12:43 AM on March 16, 2012


I've read this article before, only the last time it was about the racist history of birth control, and it purported to demonstrate that association with eugenics in its inception demonstrated that Planned Parenthood was racist.

It was the genetic fallacy the last time, too.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:23 AM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, back in the real world, first rule of journalism I was taught as a reporter way back in 19-Dickety-Three

You were around in 1923?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:48 AM on March 16, 2012


Oh for fuck's sake.

Disclaimer up front: my wife is a teacher at a charter school serving the student population of Boston Public Schools, and while I am very familiar with the workings of charter schools in Massachusetts, I might be way off-base about how they work in other states.

First off: it's wildly insulting to educators to lead off with "these schools were started by racists so what if they're ALL STILL SECRET RACISTS?" with nothing to back it up with but a poorly-researched genetic fallacy. They're clearly trying to drive page views with a scandalous lead, and it's shitty thing to do.

Now. There are plenty of valid reasons to criticize charter schools. Most of them optimize solely for test scores, which is horrible and myopic but also the necessary consequence of NCLB and of tying funding to test results. Urban charters are fueled almost entirely on the boundless energy of 23-year-old idealists, who get run through the grist mill and spat out four years later, cynical and burned out on teaching. In Massachusetts, at any rate, charter school administration runs roughshod over teachers, because teachers aren't unionized (which administration get away with because of the weird legal status of charter schools as their own districts reporting to the state rather than the municipal authority that the unions negotiate with). School leaders are usually CEO-principal hybrids, a weird confluence whose motives are occasionally suspect. Privatization of public resources in general is a disturbing trend (but not so much in this case--charters are required to function as non-profit organizations, and I assure you that no one in the ranks is getting rich).

But most of the points made in this article are way off base. Crucially, you will never find a group of teachers who are more dedicated to wiping out educational inequality than the ones who are working at charter schools. Admission is a public lottery, and the bar for entrance is absurdly low: a kid literally needs one relative or well-wisher to put his name down on a piece of paper and hand it to a school administrator. That system still isn't perfect (the kids who have it the worst in Boston are the ones who don't have so much as a well-intentioned aunt to look out for them), but the author's assertion that there's some sort of broad-ranging conspiracy to keep underperforming or minority students out of charter schools is so laughably wrong that it actually hurts his credibility elsewhere in his litany. And while his point about segregation is well-taken (Boston charters do tend to have higher minority populations than their public counterparts), I'm having a little trouble treating is as an exigent problem when you consider that charter school students routinely blow their public school counterparts out of the water on standardized tests and high school/college admission. (Boston Public averages about 35% proficiency on middle school English and math tests; Boston charter schools are up around 80%, and serve students who are much worse off)

Anyway. There's plenty of salient criticism to levy against charters as the principle alternative to public education, but it ain't in this article.
posted by Mayor West at 5:56 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I briefly attended a charter school for junior high. While I can't attest to any to any overt racism or deliberate segregation in charter schools, I can say that they can foster a very intense "us" versus "them" mentality that can lead to the self-selection of students.

Attending a charter school is like being in a cult. The purpose of the charter school--to provide a competitive and innovative alternative to the traditional public school system--is often internalized as a mission to "save" public education. From within the charter school, the local public schools are looked down upon as corrupt institutions where kids are stuffed into classrooms to do busywork all day, and there's the pervasive idea that a conspiracy of politicians, teachers unions, and lizard people are working to close the charter school forever and make everyone go back there. Offering any sort of criticism is enough to be branded an agent of that conspiracy and isolated from the community to encourage withdrawal.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:06 AM on March 16, 2012


If charter schools provide measurable results, why are charter supporters so opposed to the same level of testing and reporting public schools must meet?

Milwaukee has had charter schools for years... When they finally were able to compare the results they found no improvement compared to regular schools.

Now, by cutting district funding and giving it to private schools, the state is pushing the district to break into smaller districts.

While this might not be a purposely racist move. Due to the way neighborhoods are set up in Milwaukee it will effectively recreate segregation.
posted by drezdn at 6:15 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Until charter schools are required to operate under the same constraints and requirements as regular public schools, any comparison will always be apples-v-oranges.

It's not some great secret that, if you limit class size, fund properly, cherry-pick the student population, etc. a school will fare much better than a school that must accommodate any and all kids who show-up at the door while doing so with a steadily declining per-student budget...especially if a chunk of a school's already meager budget is being diverted to support the shiny new charter schools.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:23 AM on March 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


No Child Left Behind,

You know how Republican pols lately seem to have a thing for giving legislation names that slyly and sardonically actually mean the opposite of what they appear to mean on the most superficial reading? For example, a "Clean Skies" bill that increases permissible air pollution levels, or a "Patriot Act" that's anything but patriotic in principle, etc., etc.?

Well I've come to the conclusion one of those think-tank "geniuses" on the right must have thought they'd really out-clevered even themselves this time around, with the implied but unstated parenthetical that might as well have been appended to the name of the legislation that kicked off this whole charter school mania/re-segregationist movement: No Child Left Behind (In Public Schools).
posted by saulgoodman at 6:24 AM on March 16, 2012


In Florida, there's currently a freeze on all new public school construction and development, but the money's being diverted to charter schools. This despite the fact that our state constitution explicitly mandates a uniform, public school system that offers education to everyone. In place of that, we now get charter schools that can pick and choose their students in a "separate but equal" system, and its all been embraced on the argument that it offers more parental choice. Meanwhile, our actual public schools are so underfunded, under-resourced and hamstrung by legislative micro-management and school board politics, it's no wonder parents want other options.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:29 AM on March 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


The author or the article may not have expressed this persuasively or accurately, but in my opinion, yes, charter schools are a direct expression of American racism.

Bullshit. A significant number of charters admit students on a lottery system. There have been movies made on the subject. Unless you're going to accuse them of using this as a fiction but really hand-picking their students, an accusation for which there is remarkably little evidence, the entire suggestion is laughable.

I mean, the entire article can be summed up as "You know who else liked charter schools?" Genetic fallacy indeed.
posted by valkyryn at 6:58 AM on March 16, 2012


It is no coincidence that the Republican plan for education resembles/mimics the education of the wealthy in every way, except that it needs public funds to exist. That is ultimately its main problem. It may look like a rich kids school, and they can pretend it outperforms in some way, but it doesn't have the funding pull it off. The next generation will soon see the waste and figure out that we don't need two parallel systems of education.
posted by Brian B. at 7:05 AM on March 16, 2012


See item 2, who is eligible to attend charter schools, valkryn. But I guess if somebody made a movie about it, what more is there to say.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:09 AM on March 16, 2012


See item 14, "What are charter schools-in-a-municipality?"

Either way, in New York and DC, and in my current city, they're lottery-based. The point is that the author is painting with entirely too broad a brush.
posted by valkyryn at 7:29 AM on March 16, 2012


A significant number of charters admit students on a lottery system.

Presumably the article is talking about the ones that don't.

But just because the charter schools use a lottery doesn't mean they don't end up with a disproportionate racial makeup. Consider an area where most white students attend private schools that charge tuition. Both the public schools and the charter schools will then be disproportionately attended by minority students. It doesn't matter if the charter school uses a lottery in that case; the result will still be a disproportionate minority student population.

One of the points of the article is that charter schools are often segregated, and this happens in many different ways. In some districts this results in nearly all-white charter schools. In other districts it results in nearly all-minority charter schools.
posted by jedicus at 7:32 AM on March 16, 2012


I'm having a little trouble treating is as an exigent problem when you consider that charter school students routinely blow their public school counterparts out of the water on standardized tests and high school/college admission.

Well yes, when you only admit students whose parents care enough to get them in the charter school lottery and kick out all the troublemakers, you can produce outstanding results. All that charter schools prove is that you can get great outcomes from great kids; that's not exactly news and it's not particularly useful for local schools who have to educate everyone.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:26 AM on March 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is it just me, or is the case linking Brown V Board of Eduction segregationist schools with modern-day charter schools tenuous at best in the above-the-fold article linked in this FPP? I'd swear I've read the article about five times now, but I don't really seen the similarity between the two outside of the segregationist schools and charter schools being somehow outside of the public school system.

Have you ever noticed that Guilt and Association have been seen together a lot lately?
posted by grobstein at 8:58 AM on March 16, 2012


I work in alternative education, our program serves students who are "not finding success in a traditional setting", in School District speak that means "discipline problems".

School districts fund our program, when they have a student that is disruptive in their own environment, they send that student to us. We put them in a small setting with intensive, individualized instruction supported by a number of psychologist/social worker types.

Yes, we make a difference for about half that kids that come through our doors.

We only work with public school districts, and the districts around us are struggling, urban, underfunded, in deficit organizations. The charter schools (most of them for-profit, corporate, cookie-cutter model institutions that aren't appropriate for the majority of the kids in the community) flocked to the area like flies to a pile of shit. "Pull your kid out of that nasty public school!!!! Send him to us! We'll save him with these unique new methods and these brand new computers!" And, initially, all the concerned, fairly intelligent parents did just that. And the charters filled up with the best students in the community. What a breath of fresh air for these kids to get away from all the "bad kids". And, as they lose students, the public schools lose funding, and get worse, and worse.

Kids in the public schools struggle even more, there are more fights, more problems, more suspensions... and, sometime in the past year or two, the parents of these "bad kids", discovered charter schools as well, and start to enroll their kids, it was the NEW geographic cure (Geographic cure=change schools, because we all know that the problem is the school/teacher/principal) after they had worn out their welcome via "school of choice" in the neighboring public school districts.

In the past year, for the first time, I'm getting calls from the charter schools..."We need to send this student to you, he/she doesn't fit in here." I always just say "Discipline problems?"...the answer is always "Yes.".

Sorry, charter schools, you don't fund us, you can't dump your kid on us. "The cost is $7,000 per seat." "Oh, we can't afford that!"

I always add, "Don't you have a mandate, just like a public school, to provide a free and appropriate education for your students? The public schools don't have the luxury of just sending kids out the door when they are problematic." That question is usually greeted by silence by the underpaid (the profit at the school goes to the corporation) social worker that called me.

In my mind, charter schools are about as beneficial to our culture as bankers, stock brokers, and oil companies. Anyone who believes that charter schools are the compassionate, altruistic entities that are going to save education probably needs to pull their head out of the sand and look around a bit.
posted by HuronBob at 9:12 AM on March 16, 2012 [11 favorites]


And...let me add... After 27 years of doing this, next week I'm letting my Board know that I'm done. I just don't see the light at the end of the tunnel any longer. It's time to put the kayak in the water, get out the fly rod, and spend this part of my life bringing home a few bluegills to fry up.
posted by HuronBob at 9:15 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: "Well I've come to the conclusion one of those think-tank "geniuses" on the right must have thought they'd really out-clevered even themselves this time around, with the implied but unstated parenthetical that might as well have been appended to the name of the legislation that kicked off this whole charter school mania/re-segregationist movement: No Child Left Behind (In Public Schools)."

Infamous right wing think tank responsible for making up phrase "No Child Left Behind". Hard-line conservative senator responsible for writing NCLB.
posted by Apropos of Something at 9:21 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, we make a difference for about half that kids that come through our doors.

I work for a law firm that represents students in special education litigation. Pretty much every one of our parents whose kid winds up at the alternative school wishes it could be their kids permanent placement. Sadly, once they alternative school works its magic, they get put back in the regular schools and frequently mess up again.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:33 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've come to the conclusion one of those think-tank "geniuses" on the right must have thought they'd really out-clevered even themselves this time around, with the implied but unstated parenthetical that might as well have been appended to the name of the legislation that kicked off this whole charter school mania/re-segregationist movement: No Child Left Behind (In Public Schools).

Or perhaps:
By the constant application of pointless testing and the memorisation of factless facts we will slowly tease out the last vestiges of humanity from these children until there is a small group of compliant automata to slot in to our dwindling supply of jobs, a somewhat larger heap of human debris (to ignore except when it becomes electorally beneficial to deplore them), and no child left behind at all.
Something like that.
posted by Grangousier at 9:37 AM on March 16, 2012


Well yes, when you only admit students whose parents care enough to get them in the charter school lottery and kick out all the troublemakers, you can produce outstanding results. All that charter schools prove is that you can get great outcomes from great kids; that's not exactly news and it's not particularly useful for local schools who have to educate everyone.

Right, except in the case of the charter schools I'm talking about, (which, again: Boston, so maybe not representative of the rest of the country) which are 40-80% black, have no barriers to entry, are legislatively barred from kicking out troublemakers, and routinely finish in the top decile in test scores, despite the fact that they're competing against districts that are much whiter and much wealthier.

We're apparently talking about two wholly different standards in charter schools. I'll stop generalizing about the rest of the country, but if you think they're all cherry-picking students to get their results, you are wrong.
posted by Mayor West at 10:49 AM on March 16, 2012


Isn't funding the solution for what ails public education, being lack of funding?

No, funding is one of many things that are part of the solution. Lack of funding is but one piece of what ails education.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:46 AM on March 16, 2012


Anytime you require student's parents to enter a lottery you're cherry picking. The data shows that students whose parents care enough to enter a lottery have better outcomes, even if they don't get in. Until you can demonstrate improved outcomes for the average child, you're not demonstrating anything useful.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:48 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Infamous right wing think tank responsible for making up phrase "No Child Left Behind". Hard-line conservative senator responsible for writing NCLB.

Well, it's inevitable I'll jump to a wrong conclusion every now and then, same as anyone else, I suppose. But No Child Left Behind (In Public Schools) is still poetically true enough from where I sit, because that's been its most conspicuous practical effect: to suck dollars and energy out of the public school system, and to distract us from reforming that where it really counts: in the classroom, in the communities, and in the curriculum.

The Democrats have all been drinking deeply of the same kool-aid (albeit, a slightly weaker brew) as the Republicans for years now. That's why it's called the "Washington Consensus," not the "Republican Consensus" or the "American Consensus."
posted by saulgoodman at 8:24 PM on March 16, 2012


(And BTW, this is one issue I don't hold Obama harmless on, either, though he's still got my vote for many other reasons. Race to the Top has good intentions, but it's generally the wrong prescription in my opinion.)
posted by saulgoodman at 8:34 PM on March 16, 2012


Charter schools = Robbing Peter to pay Paul.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:01 AM on March 17, 2012


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