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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Charter schools are often promoted as a tool to address educational inequities, but a potential precedent-setting legal case launched earlier this month says the opposite. In filings with the U.S. Department of Education, two Delaware nonprofit groups allege that some of the state’s publicly funded, privately managed schools are actively resegregating the education system — and in a way that violates federal civil rights law.

The complaint, by the Delaware branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Community Legal Aid Society, cites data showing that more than three-quarters of Delaware’s charter schools are “racially identifiable” — a term that describes schools whose demographics are substantially different from the surrounding community.

According to the complaint, “High-performing charter schools are almost entirely racially identifiable as white” while “low-income students and students with disabilities are disproportionately relegated to failing charter schools and charter schools that are racially identifiable as African-American or Hispanic.”

The groups are asking the Obama administration to take specific steps, including prohibiting subjective admissions policies for charter schools and barring extra fees for attending charter schools — factors they say discriminate against low-income, disabled and minority students.

Because the case is being filed with the federal government, these actions could have implications for school districts everywhere — and there is already plenty of data tying charter schools to segregation.

In 2010, a University of Colorado report analyzing charter schools found that “as compared with the public school district in which the charter school resided, the charter schools were substantially more segregated by race, wealth, disabling condition and language.” Similarly, in reviewing a decade worth of research about charter schools, George Washington University education researcher Iris Rotberg earlier this year concluded that “charter schools often lead to increased school segregation … and lead to the stratification of students who were previously in integrated environments.”

Meanwhile, a General Accountability Office study in 2012 showed that “charter schools enrolled a lower percentage of students with disabilities than traditional public schools.”

The causes of educational segregation are a point of debate. Charter school defenders, for example, argue that the trends may merely reflect geography.

“A naive examination … appears to show that the critics are right: More choice is associated with minority students attending less diverse schools,” wrote the Brookings Institution’s Matthew M. Chingos in his 2013 study of education data. “Of course, this relationship ignores the fact that charters tend to locate in areas that serve large shares of disadvantaged students and members of minority groups. As a result, this simple correlation tells us nothing about whether charters increase segregation or just tend to locate in areas where the schools are already segregated.”

Yet, in the Delaware case, the nonprofit groups blame charter schools’ admissions requirements for effectively promoting discrimination.

“These requirements include high examination scores, essays written by parents to explain why a school is a good choice for their child, access to gifted and talented elementary and middle-school programs that help increase academic performance, annual activities fees, mandatory parent involvement and mandatory high-cost uniform purchases,” the ACLU said in a statement announcing the complaint. “Such barriers prevent students from low-income African-American and Hispanic families from having the same access to high-quality charter schools that middle- and upper-class families have.”

In May, the Department of Education warned charter school administrators that their admissions policies “may not use admissions criteria that have the effect of excluding students on the basis of race, color or national origin.”

That warning was issued almost exactly 60 years after the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling that began officially desegregating America’s schools. In those six decades, much progress has been made on civil rights — but the trends documented in Delaware show there is still a long way to go.

David Sirota is a senior writer at the International Business Times and the bestselling author of the books Hostile Takeover, The Uprising and Back to Our Future. Email him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at

Photo: Greg953 via Wikimedia Commons

  • joe schmo

    Is there no peace from the police state called civil rights? Jesus, leave it alone for crying out loud. Is there nothing you people won’t stop at to change this country into a Communist Hell hole. People should have a right to send their kids to Charter schools so that they can be more challenged in their studies. Equality in terms of uniqueness is an impossiblity. Each person has their own individual talents and gifts. Not EVERYONE learns the same. Not everyone is created to operate the same mentally.

    If you idiots think that this is unfair to ethnics why not find a way to help fund kids in poorer neighborhoods so that they too can have access to Charter Schools where they live. God! Do you have to ruin everything with your low-life secular agenda that is dumbing down and brainwashing of our children.

    • Grannysmovin

      The people who are “dumbing down and brainwashing our children” are people like you.

      • joe schmo

        Huh, …and who do you suppose are running those secular institutions? Last in reading (which I believe includes all language arts), 2nd to the last in math, near the bottom in science. I rest my case. I know how the system works. I taught at the college level while going through grad school. ‘They know nothing’…….

        Keep the minority ignorant and innocent and you can lead the masses around by the nose.

        • Grannysmovin

          Well you just proved my case, people like you are dumbing down annd brainwashing our children.

          There are some Charter Schools that are good schools, but why aren’t we investing that money in our public schools and investing in tomorrow’s leaders. Charter Schools should not receive any Federal Funding, those funds should be used on public schools to improve and expand the curriculum. Charter schools are privately owned and should operate as a private school.

      • Whatmeworry

        Except its been 40 years of liberal hand wringing that keeps are kids at 3rd world education status

        • Daniel Max Ketter

          If it wasn’t for a little bit of that liberal hand wringing, I wouldn’t have gotten that union job at Ford for over 30 years while receiving a FAIR wage!

      • Whatmeworry

        Except its been 40 years of repub hand wringing that keeps are kids at 3rd world education status

      • bhaggen

        And what exactly has Mr Schmo done to “dumb down” his children? Charter schools require MORE parent involvement than average schools. Statistically & sadly, minority parents are no where near as involved with their child’s schoolwork & they tend to hold back the class as a whole.

        • Grannysmovin

          Mr. Schmo stated he “taught at the college level while going through grad school..,.,,” Perhaps the children you reference have both parents, or their only parent working, and can not be involved with theirs child’s school work. As I said in a post latter post, Charter schools are privately owned and should operate as a private school charging. Charter Schools should not receive any Federal Funding, those funds should be going to public schools. Why do you not mention that public schools are in all communities, poor communities with people of color and white people and middle class communitites with people of color and white people and affluent communities. So does your statistics and sadness extend to the middle class and affluent communities or just to the poorer communities?

  • GraceAdams830

    How important a part of a child’s education is the assortment of his or her classmates? Children do tend to subconsciously notice the mean and standard deviation of their class along many dimensions. Especially if teacher has enough sense to recruit ablest students as unofficial teachers’ aides and peer tutors, students can learn more tolerance in a class with a larger standard deviation. In that case the top 1/4 of the class is assigned to helping the bottom 1/4 catch up towards the middle while the teacher aims instruction at the middle half. Children who spend most of their time in classrooms full of children very much like themselves tend to become parochial and expect to deal only with those very much like themselves. In too many schools, teachers hog all the instructional time and demand that students sit like bumps on logs and ONLY listen and completely ignore their classmates. In that case, students do not get much chance to even look at each other much less get any sense of how much diversity if any the class has.

  • Whittier5

    Yes. In multiple ways. The Old Confederacy has not surrendered, as did its General.

  • Allan Richardson

    To use a highway analogy, improving public schools is like fixing potholes so the streets are smooth and every car can have a smooth ride. Charter schools and vouchers are like giving a few car owners money to buy and install “super shocks” just as a few others are already able to do with their own money, while those who don’t get the extra money and don’t already have the money for a “super shock” equipped car (being the majority) have to suffer with bumpy rides.

    Or, to use an ocean liner analogy, public schools are like the Titanic being deliberately steered into an iceberg, built from inferior (CHEAPER) steel than was actually needed, while private/charter schools are like the lifeboats which saved a small fraction of the people.

  • DAVE in VA

    My Wife is a public School Elementary Teacher and has been teaching for eleven years now.The problem we have in our public schools is lack of parents involvement in their child’s educational learning. The problem has nothing to do with someones race, it has everything to do with the parents involvement with their own child’s educational learning.

    The Students who come from homes where the parents are involved with their children educational learning are the ones who have the good grades and do well in society. The parents who hold education as a part of family values are the ones who children go on to do some great achievements in their lives and in other people’s lives.

    The children who come from homes where the parents are NOT involved in their child’s educational learning,are the ones who are getting the lower grades and are having a harder time with getting good paying jobs to support their families.

    For example this year’s class that she is teaching, all of the parents are involved in their child’s learning,and all of the kids are passing with A’s and B’s. The years in the past when the parents are not involved in their child’s learning. The kids normally get C’s D’s and F’s and have a harder time finding good paying jobs when they graduate from school.

    The Parents who are sending their children to charter schools, are the parents who hold education as a family value in their homes. With the parents holding education as a high standard. They can normally choose to send their kids to the charter schools.

  • Jen Kim

    We also need to keep in mind that it’s fat-cat teachers’ unions who are blocking urgently needed school reforms:

  • Magnus Thunderson

    since Scott became Florida Governor there been a huge push for charter schools and a general reduction in funds for schools and what happed is me drop badly in our state eduction ratings due to it