Charters Don’t Change School Segregation

New Orleans   In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans public schools were hijacked through a state takeover that made the city the largest charter school experiment in the country. A special grant from President George W. Bush became an offer too good for the state to turn down as it muscled aside the publicly elected school board and set about redesigning the school system. Where the charter movement had been stopped in the past by requirements for concurring votes by the system, the parents, and the teachers, the union was broken and the takeover was complete.

There were a number of claims for what this takeover might mean. Most of them have not been met, including improvements in test scores and student performance. A proposal to turn over the last five non-charter schools to a newly minted charter operator was suddenly withdrawn, preventing the system from now being 100% charterized. The school board is gradually replacing the state recovery district, so there is hope for local control once again.

One claim though that the charter-boosters had maintained as a premise for their bold experiment is that the school system under their control would be more equally integrated by race and income. Making the whole city open-admissions was supposed to be a workaround for residential segregation in this majority African-American city. On that score the experiment has earned an F minus.

This must have been a bitter pill for the Tulane Education Research Alliance for New Orleans to report since Tulane and its then president had been huge backers of the charter movement including funding one school, essentially for their own staff and professors. The report indicated the following:

  • High school segregation increased for students who were African-American, Latino, low-income or learning English.
  • White students were just as likely to be concentrated in particular schools as they were pre-Katrina.
  • The typical low-income student is in a school that is 78% low-income, which is 6% worse than before the storm.
  • Before, Katrina, only one high school was less than 80% black out of 125 campuses, now with far fewer schools, six are less than 80%.

Most devastatingly, the district was 92% African-American before Katrina and is now 85% African-American, in spite of some significant demographic changes in the city. Tellingly, private and parochial schools enroll a majority of the city’s white students. Parents simply did not buy the charter’s claim and elect more diverse schools. They continued to self-segregate. This is not a surprising pattern, but more the norm. The Civil Rights Project at UCLA, according to the Times-Picayune, has repeatedly found that charter schools are “generally more segregated than public schools.” Penn State researchers have found that black and Latino students “tended to move into charter schools that were more racially isolated than the public schools they left.”

Charters still seem mainly about privatization and imposed ideology. The notion that they increase diversity based on income and race seems to just be a cover story, and is certainly not proven out in New Orleans or other cities to date.

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Please enjoy Shelly Fairchild’s Mississippi Turnpike. Thanks to KABF.

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Trump’s Education Pick is All about Free Market Parochial Education

Colin Powell Academy in Detroit, Michigan, one of the many schools abandoned since 2009

New Orleans    Doing a little research and realizing that Betsy DeVos, the Michigan-based Republican fundraiser, who is now in line to head the Department of Education, had never attended a public school but only religiously oriented institutions straight through college, made me raise my eyebrows a bit. Reading that in her push towards the disastrous charter-izing of the public school system in recent years in Detroit that she had never actually bothered to meet with any of the stakeholders in education there or visit a public school and interact with teachers, parents, or students, was even more disconcerting. She is not an educational advocate and activist, as she has been billed, but a stone cold ideologue without an iota of concern or compassion for the consequences of her ideology.

I guess the good news is that the federal budget only contributes 8% of the total education budget with 92% coming from local and state sources, so there is at least some limit to the damage she can do. Sadly, that’s small comfort.

I’m not a fan of charter schools and the privatization of public schools. I see enough of it in New Orleans, which now leads the country in the percentage of charter operated schools and is approaching 100% saturation. No small amount of my alienation has been based on their lack of accountability and transparency. In New Orleans we are gradually moving the schools back under the local control of a school board, though elite interests are attempting to extend their sway by dominating the contributions for candidates friendly to their interests, we at least now have a fighting chance at drawing the line and holding feet to the fire.

All reports indicate that DeVos would have none of that in Detroit, and strong armed the state legislature, controlled by Republicans, to prevent any bill from passage that would create any mechanism that hold charter schools accountable even on basic standards of education and fiscal integrity. She adamantly wanted absolutely no controls on the charters. The commission she opposed was even stacked with equal representation from charter and non-charter school leaders, moderated by an education expert, and backed by the twenty largest and best charter operations in Detroit. Not good enough for her. She wanted nothing. Period. The situation is so bad that most of the big charter operators have avoided opening in Detroit and even the Walton Foundation, the biggest moneybag supporter of school charters and privatization, has withdrawn from Detroit because the situation is indefensible. Her view seems to have been little more than laissez-faire, let the buyer beware, and unhappy parents can walk their children out of the schools with their feet.

New national studies, that were possible only because Common Core required at least some standard, national tests, seem to have established that for lower income schools and children the single thing making the most difference is increasing school expenditures. How does a DeVos, who wants to implement expensive vouchers to allow her favored private and parochial schools to flourish while draining taxpayer support for public schools, implement a program that applies that finding? In fact, for an ideologue whose main program is a free-market education, will she allow any standards for our education system at all in the United States?

Everyone understands that we need better schools. The rich ideologues like DeVos seem more committed to chaos, charters, church schools, and a separate but unequal system rather than education at all. The coming years seem destined to teach hard and tragic lessons to the country while committing countless crimes against the nation’s children.

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