Stop Talking About Charter Schools and Focus on What's Really Causing Segregation

Dec 11, 2017 12:00:00 AM

by Garris Stroud

A recent report from The Associated Press has been turning heads about the link between charter schools and segregation. According to the report, “charter schools are among the nation’s most segregated…an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools.” This is not the first time that charter schools have weathered such accusations, but like earlier attempts, this report fails to take some key considerations into its analysis. My take? The report gets it wrong on charter schools. Here’s why.

‘Linked’ Does Not Mean ‘Caused By’

If there is a link between two things, it just means that a relationship exists between them. In this article, that relationship being discussed is the link between racial isolation and charter schools. However, just because a relationship exists between these two things doesn’t imply one thing causes the other to happen—that is, [pullquote]just because school segregation exists in charter schools, that doesn’t mean that charter schools cause that segregation.[/pullquote] Charter schools usually operate in urban environments, and often these communities are heavily populated by minorities and families from low-income backgrounds. This complicates the idea that charter schools cause segregation—they are designed, after all, to help students who are the most underserved. If charters are working the way they are intended, they would naturally have more minority students than traditional schools anyway.

Segregation is Still a Reality

Even in 2017, some policies and laws still preserve segregation and inequality in our communities. Take, for example, the recent string of draconian voter ID laws which disproportionately suppress minority voting, or housing policies based upon discriminatory practices. And of course, there really is true school segregation that’s still happening today in the form of gerrymandered school zones, district boundary policies and the like. Arguing that charter schools cause segregation is a bit of a stretch, especially when we consider all the ways in which inequality really does continue to thrive. If parents choose to send their children to charter schools, it’s because they believe in that school’s ability to help their child be successful. That’s a huge jump from these policies which actually do reinforce inequality and segregation within our society.

Charter Schools Give Us Choices

Having effective, transparent, accountable charter schools provides parents with alternatives to traditional public education, and many parents like having the opportunity to provide their children with nontraditional learning experiences. The ability to have a say in your child’s education is a wonderful asset—who could deny a parent from seeking out the best opportunities for their children? Ultimately, the AP piece serves to promote the narrative that school choice is the wrong approach, and (incorrectly) implies that charter schools are somehow more at fault for promoting inequalities among our students. While it is important for us to acknowledge that discrimination, prejudice and segregation are factors at work in nearly every social institution, it is also important to recognize that effective charter schools can play a role in easing the burden of these inequalities. That’s what they’re there for, after all.

Garris Stroud

Garris Stroud is an award-winning educator and writer from Greenville, Kentucky whose advocacy and scholarship have been recognized by USA Today, U.S. News and World Report, Education Post, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and The Lexington Herald-Leader. He served as a Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow from 2017-2019 and became chair of the organization’s editorial board in 2018. Stroud received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Murray State University and is currently a doctoral student in educational leadership at the University of the Cumberlands, located in the heart of Kentucky’s Appalachian region. Read more about his work on the Kentucky School Talk and Rural Ed Voices blogs.

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