WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, The Century Foundation (TCF) released Scoring States on Charter School Integration, a report that examines the racial and income segregation among public charter schools in the United States. The study identifies key policy levers to increase the diversity of charter schools and provides a rating system of how well each state exemplifies those policies. However, the report misunderstands and misrepresents both issues of integration and segregation, and the role of charter schools in them.
Public charter schools provide high-quality educational opportunities for more than 3.2 million students across the country and particularly for traditionally marginalized and underserved communities. Charter schools are public, open to all students and tuition-free. Nationally, charter schools serve more low-income students (55% to 52%), more students of color (67% to 51%) and the same percentage of children with disabilities (11% to 12%) than do traditional district schools. As schools of choice, families elect to enroll their children in charter schools.
The report begins by asserting the potential for charter school to address segregation in all public schools by creating integrated charter schools. However, this assertion ignores two key facts. The degree to which a small charter school sector can influence a system-level issue is limited at best. Second, charter schools serve disproportionally higher groups of students of color and students from low-income families. This is related to, in large part, where charter schools locate. Many areas within districts are already segregated and have the greatest need for high quality schools.
“The report makes several critical methodological and data errors that undermine the report’s state scoring system as well as the conclusions based upon those scores,” said Dr. Nathan Barrett, Senior Director of Research and Evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “The study motivates integration research upon the questionable assumption that charter schools could offer a panacea to addressing long-standing issues with integrating our school systems. The issues of segregation and integration impact both charter and district schools and the charter sector is eager to find solutions. However, 94% of America’s student attend non-charter schools, making much of this work imperative to address in the district sector.
The dissimilarity index the report uses is a popular measure of segregation and in many ways superior to other measures such as proportionality or isolation. Yet, the way it is leveraged in this study is misleading because the rating system fails to account for the magnitude of the difference. The authors also use CCD data for their analysis and included virtual charter schools. This data incorporation is debatably appropriate in the analysis of segregation but given how virtual schools enroll students. Some of the biggest net changes to segregation in the study are driven by the inclusion of virtual charter schools.
National Alliance President and CEO Nina Rees released the following statement:
“Ensuring that a student’s race or ethnicity does not determine the quality of their education is a moral obligation. In some cases, racial isolation does in fact drive disparities in resources and expectations—and we should address this with urgency. We believe that the ultimate goal should be academic achievement for all students, including students of color. And to do that, we need to make more schools a place where children of color want to be, and where they can thrive, all while protecting and replicating school options that are serving them well here and now.”
The report suggests there is little correlation between state policy scores and how those states faired on the enrollment score of charter schools improving segregation. This is a problem. If there is no correlation between these two factors, then the report is making recommendations based on ideology and normative judgments beyond what the data can support.
Today’s statement is an initial response to the summary and recommendations in the report. The National Alliance will continue to evaluate the report’s findings and may comment further at www.publiccharters.org.