Charter schools: new evidence on their impact on school segregation


The Associated Press recently wrote about a study that analyzed charter school student demographics. It found that since the “2014-2015 school year, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99%, and that number has been rising steadily.” In addition, while data reveal that almost equal numbers of white, black and Hispanic students attend charter school, when charter schools are more segregated when their student distribution is compared to a local public school.

This data has been getting a lot of attention because “levels of segregation correspond with low achievement levels at schools of all kinds.” For example, a research report form the Brookings Institute published in 2016 analyzing desegregation in schools found that “7% of the total variance in student achievement is associated with student demographics at the school level.” On the other hand, The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools spokesperson responded to these comments saying “modern schools of choice with high concentrations of students of color is a demonstration of parents choosing the best schools for their children, rooted in the belief that the school will meet the child’s educational needs, often based on demonstrated student success.” The question remains, if charter schools market themselves as a targeted approach to better educate underserved populations, is this actually resulting in segregation which is correlated with lower overall student achievement?

The NAACP believes that this increased segregation could have negative consequences for black student achievement. While the NAACP does not oppose charter schools, their charter school recommendations ask for charter schools to adhere to policies to ensure that certified teachers, discipline procedures, student recruitment and academic performance of students are monitored to ensure that students are being prepared for life after high school. They want to make sure that every student receives a quality education, and recognize that charter schools vary between states and even between districts. The Brookings Institute research report concluded that the level of segregation in charter schools depends on the state and state policies. “Malkus finds that charters tend to enroll lots of low-income students, or very few, relative to the traditional public-school comparison group.” While it does depend on the state, many result in increased segregation for black students when they enter charter schools. This evidence makes charter school segregation a local issue. Depending on the local context, charter school segregation could mean charter schools only enrolling low income, minority students, while in others charter schools could be places that are selecting the best and the brightest in the area. While both result in a more segregated school system, each situation requires its own tailored solution to promote increased student integration in charter schools throughout the country.