Tag: charter schools integration


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Petrilli Misreads the Charter School Integration Debate


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While one appreciates Fordham’s Mike Petrilli for arguing that racial and ethnic integration in charter schools is as worthy a goal as it is in other aspects of American life, …

Photo courtesy of Jose Vilson

While one appreciates Fordham’s Mike Petrilli for arguing that racial and ethnic integration in charter schools is as worthy a goal as it is in other aspects of American life,  there are a couple of problems with his overall argument.

The first? He involves a false assumption not based on evidence: That charter school operators aren’t necessarily interested in integration. This isn’t the case. If anything, as evidenced by National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Nelson Smith’s response to Gary Orfield’s latest report decrying segregation in charters (or to be more precise, the latest study coming out of his Civil Rights Project at UCLA), charter school advocates definitely think integration is important. This is also true in the fact that most charters are open-enrollment, lottery-driven schools which are open to all comers so long as the children and the parents commit to being the active players in education decision-making they should be.

Petrilli also downplays the role of state charter legislation in fostering the segregation he and Orfield mutually decry. (It could be worse, of course: Orfield and company pretend this doesn’t even exist.) As I’ve noted, the likelihood of integration is as much dependent on the location- and demographic-based restrictions as it is on the choices of parents. As evidenced in Maryland and Virginia, the dual role of traditional districts as both public school operators and charter authorizers also means that charters are also less-likely to exist in suburban communities. Suburban districts abhor the presence of charters even more than their big-city counterparts. Until these barriers are eliminated, charter schools will continue to confined to the nation’s urban locales. And unless those cities manage to lure more whites from suburbia through sensible fiscal and quality-of-life policies, charters will also remain highly-segregated.

Certainly integration is a great benefit, both to society and to the people on an individual level. After all, I’ve spent most of my career arguing for a color-blind society and even, demanding that my fellow African-Americans stop placing themselves into ghettos intellectual and otherwise. Petrilli is correct in noting that, depending on the setting, integration can even help improve student academic achievement (as well as, to borrow from J. William Fulbright, promote mutual understanding). Eliminating restrictions on the growth of charters would greatly aid that goal. So would the expansion of school voucher plans, the abolition of intra-district zoning  and magnet school policies, the promotion of inter-district public school choice (by making school funding a state-level role), and even the expansion of grassroots groups aiding parents in education, be it the Black Star Project or the PTA.

But integration isn’t the only social good. More important to black and Latino families — especially my own — are opportunities to provide the best education for their children. Given the low graduation rates for blacks and Latinos — and the consequences of mass academic failure wrought upon these communities — integration becomes a secondary priority. These families can no longer wait for the benefits of integration, wonderful and enriching as they are, as their young men and women struggle in traditional public schools that treat them as afterthoughts.  They want — and deserve — the power to choose better options.

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