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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Charter schools are among the nation’s most segregated, an Associated Press analysis finds — an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools.
National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.
The problem: Those levels of segregation correspond with low achievement levels at schools of all kinds.
In the AP analysis of student achievement in the 42 states that have enacted charter school laws, along with the District of Columbia, the performance of students in charter schools varies widely. But schools that enroll 99 percent minorities — both charters and traditional public schools — on average have fewer students reaching state standards for proficiency in reading and math.
“Desegregation works. Nothing else does,” said Daniel Shulman, a Minnesota civil rights attorney. “There is no amount of money you can put into a segregated school that is going to make it equal.”
Shulman singled out charter schools for blame in a lawsuit that accuses the state of Minnesota of allowing racially segregated schools to proliferate, along with achievement gaps for minority students. Minority-owned charters have been allowed wrongly to recruit only minorities, he said, as others wrongly have focused on attracting whites.
Even some charter school officials acknowledge this is a concern. Nearly all the students at Milwaukee’s Bruce-Guadalupe Community School are Hispanic, and most speak little or no English when they begin elementary school. The school set out to serve Latinos, but it also decided against adding a high school in hopes that its students will go on to schools with more diversity.
“The beauty of our school is we’re 97 percent Latino,” said Pascual Rodriguez, the school’s principal. “The drawback is we’re 97 percent Latino … Well, what happens when they go off into the real world where you may be part of an institution that’s not 97 percent Latino?”
The charter school movement born a quarter of a century ago has thrived in large urban areas, where advocates say they often aim to serve students — by and large, minorities — who have been let down by their district schools. And on average, children in hyper-segregated charters do at least marginally better on tests than those in comparably segregated traditional schools.
For inner-city families with limited schooling options, the cultural homogeneity of some charters can boost their appeal as alternatives to traditional public schools that are sometimes seen as hostile environments.
They and other charter supporters insist that these are good schools, and dismiss concerns about racial balance.
Araseli Perez, a child of Mexican immigrants, sent her three children to Bruce-Guadalupe because she attended Milwaukee Public Schools and she wanted something different for her children. The schools in her family’s neighborhood are more diverse racially, but she said race was not a factor in her decision to enroll her children at the charter school five miles away.
“We’re just happy with the results,” she said. Her youngest child, Eleazar, now in seventh grade, is on the soccer team and plays the trumpet at the school, which boasts test scores and graduation rates above city averages. Perez said her children frequently came home from Bruce-Guadalupe showing off an award they won.
Her daughter Monica Perez, 23, went on to a private school and then college before becoming a teacher’s assistant.
“I don’t think I felt the impact of going to an all-Latino school until I went to high school,” Perez said. “When you go to a Latino school everyone is Roman Catholic and everyone knows the same stuff.”
There is growing debate over just how much racial integration matters. For decades after the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that segregated schools were unconstitutional, integration was held up as a key measure of progress for minorities, but desegregation efforts have stalled and racial imbalances are worsening in American schools. Charter schools have been championed by the U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and as the sector continues to grow it will have to contend with the question of whether separate can be equal.
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools spokeswoman Vanessa Descalzi said today’s charters cannot be compared to schools from the Jim Crow era, when blacks were barred from certain schools.
“Modern schools of choice with high concentrations of students of color is a demonstration of parents choosing the best schools for their children, rooted in the belief that the school will meet their child’s educational needs, and often based on demonstrated student success,” Descalzi said. “This is not segregation.”
White teachers have traditionally outnumbered black and Hispanic teachers in Milwaukee schools, which have not been seen as places where Latino parents want to send their children, according to Enrique Figueroa, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and a longtime advocate for Latino students in the city. He said he sees no problem with the concentrations of Latino students in some charters.
“I think the more an individual knows about his or her identity or culture, the better that individual is at asserting himself in any situation because you are strong about who you are,” he said.
Charter schools, which are funded publicly and run privately, enroll more than 2.7 million nationwide, a number that has tripled over the last decade. Meanwhile, as the number of non-charter schools holds steady in the U.S., charters account for nearly all the growth of schools where minorities face the most extreme racial isolation.
While 4 percent of traditional public schools are 99 percent minority, the figure is 17 percent for charters. In cities, where most charters are located, 25 percent of charters are over 99 percent nonwhite, compared to 10 percent for traditional schools.
School integration gains achieved over the second half of the last century have been reversed in many places over the last 20 years, and a growing number of schools educate students who are poor and mostly black or Hispanic, according to federal data. The resegregation has been blamed on the effects of charters and school choice, the lapse of court-ordered desegregation plans in many cities, and housing and economic trends.
The Obama administration and some states created programs to promote racial and ethnic diversity in charters, but they have been applied unevenly, said Erica Frankenberg, an education professor at Penn State. School choice, she said, leads to stratification unless it is designed in a way to prevent it.
“Word spreads by networks that are segregated,” said Frankenberg, who has found that black, Latino and white students in Pennsylvania choose charters with higher racial isolation when they have options that are more diverse.
The options to promote diversity depend entirely on what is available under state law, according to Sonia Park, director of the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition, a 2-year-old network of 100 schools that are deliberately cultivating integration. Only some places have weighted lotteries, transportation budgets for charter students or the ability to draw students from urban and suburban districts.
Decades of research have shown that schools with high percentages of minority students historically have fewer resources, less experienced teachers and lower levels of achievement.
Like many other American cities, Milwaukee has seen an exodus of white students since a busing program in the 1970s. Whites now account for only 14 percent of the 78,500 students in the public school system. City schools often have one predominant ethnic group, and many charters are at the far end of that spectrum.
Despite successes at schools like Bruce-Guadalupe, charters with the highest levels of racial isolation rank among the worst.
Nationwide, about half of students reach state proficiency standards in traditional public schools, and on average charters are only a few percentage points behind. Among schools that are 99 percent minority, however, only about 20 percent reach proficiency levels at traditional public schools and about 30 percent do so at charters, according to the AP analysis.
At the Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, more than 98 percent of the 335 students are African-American and nearly all qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Less than 20 percent of students score at state proficiency levels for reading and less than 25 percent do so for math. The principal, Alper Akyurek, acknowledges that the school has significant room to improve test scores, but so too do the neighborhood schools his students would be attending otherwise.
Akyurek said he is certain race is not the primary consideration of families coming to his charter school on the city’s impoverished north side.
“I think safety is No. 1,” he said.
Jamain Lee, 13, has seen his grades improve since he enrolled two years ago from a school where he was bullied and frequently got into fights. His mother, Alicia Lee, said teachers at the neighborhood school would stand by and even record fights. She is unconcerned about the lack of diversity.
“You focus on, ‘Is my child learning? Are they having fun learning? Do they want to go back when they come home?’” Alicia Lee said of her decision to enroll her four children in the charter school.
Howard Fuller, who was superintendent of Milwaukee schools from 1991 to 1995, rejects criticism of racially isolated charters. He says the imbalances reflect deep-rooted segregation, and it is unfair to put the burden on charters to pursue integration.
In a city where many black students live in poverty, and some reach high school not knowing how to read, he said there are other, more pressing problems.
“It’s a waste of time to talk about integration,” he said. “How do these kids get the best education possible?”
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed to this report. Fenn reported from New York and Melia from Hartford, Connecticut.
Only a few years ago, school desegregation was a topic confined to history books—a tumultuous chapter of the civil rights era, starting with Brown v. Board of Education and ending, ignominiously, with the backlash of white parents in the 1980s and ’90s. But over the past three years, thanks to the renewed efforts of advocates and researchers, a surprising resurgence has taken shape. Authors and activists are once again highlighting America’s failure to successfully integrate its schools as a root cause of educational inequality and a driving force behind the nation’s persistent racial divides.
As concerns over unresolved segregation have picked up steam, so too has recognition of the hard practical obstacles to educational integration. Is desegregation a feasible goal? Even some self-described integrationists voice skepticism—potentially slowing, or even derailing, momentum for integrated schools. History threatens to repeat itself, with frustrated advocates accepting segregation as inevitable and refocusing, as many did in the ’90s, only on providing better education in racially isolated environments. But this would be a mistake.
No obstacle to school desegregation is greater, or has been more frequently cited, than racially divided housing patterns. The basic issue is simple: Segregated neighborhoods tend to produce segregated schools. If most of a school district’s population is black or Hispanic, most of its schools probably will be too.
Prior Experience Working with Youth of Color Linked to More Multicultural Awareness
Student teachers with more multicultural awareness foster more positive classroom environments for their students, finds a new study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and published in the Journal of Teacher Education.
However, multicultural awareness varies considerably among future teachers based on their own race or ethnicity and prior experience working with youth of color.
Multicultural awareness – which refers to an awareness of, comfort with, and sensitivity toward issues of cultural diversity in the classroom – is crucial to teachers’ abilities to promote positive outcomes for all students. Despite decades of policy reforms that emphasize the importance of multicultural awareness, few comparative studies have examined its prevalence in students preparing to be teachers (also known as preservice teachers) or the link between multicultural awareness and future teachers’ measured competencies.
“In light of the persistent demographic divide between a predominantly White teaching force and evermore racially and ethnically diverse schools, current and future educators’ abilities to create inclusive classroom environments are critical for fostering student success,” said Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, assistant professor of international education at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.
In this study, the researchers used unique data of preservice teachers’ beliefs and student teacher performance assessments to ask whether levels of multicultural awareness vary by characteristics such as race and ethnicity, education, and prior experience working with diverse youth, as well as whether multicultural awareness shapes teaching competency.
Surveys on multicultural beliefs were collected from 2,473 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in teacher certification programs at a private U.S. university between 2010 and 2015. About 60 percent of the students surveyed (1,498) were also observed and evaluated by master teachers while student teaching.
The researchers found that multicultural beliefs are tied to student teachers’ ability to create strong and nurturing classroom environments, measured during student teaching observations by master teachers.
“Our study underscores the importance of equipping all teachers with essential multicultural knowledge, skills, and dispositions,” added Cherng.
The researchers also found that Black and Latino preservice teachers report greater multicultural awareness than their White counterparts. Asian American preservice teachers report having the least multicultural awareness.
“These differences are consistent with prior research that finds that Black and Latino teachers, drawing upon their own identities and experiences as racial minorities, are often more aware of and sensitive toward cultural differences,” said Cherng. “What is less clear is why Asian Americans report having lower levels of multicultural awareness. It is possible that Asian American student teachers believe that multicultural education, like other discourses on race that make little mention of Asian Americans, does not include or embrace their identities.”
Preservice teachers, particularly Latinos and Asian Americans, who had prior experience working with students of color had higher levels of multicultural awareness.
“This finding suggests that educators may develop a stronger racial consciousness through working with youth of color,” Cherng said.
Preservice teachers in different content area and grade-level programs reported different levels of multicultural awareness. For example, compared to future teachers in early childhood programs, those in math, science, and social studies programs had lower levels of multicultural awareness.
The researchers urge that their findings be used to inform teacher education policy and meaningfully focus both curriculum and instruction on preservice teachers that would benefit most from multicultural awareness.
The study can also inform teacher recruitment efforts. For example, since they found that prior experience working with youth of color is linked with more multicultural awareness, recruitment efforts could focus on community organizations that serve diverse youth.
“Through a deeper understanding of the relationships between preservice teachers’ background characteristics, multicultural beliefs, and evolving teaching competencies, our study contributes to our understanding of preparing teachers for diverse classrooms and prompts further investigation into developing cultural competence in teaching,” said Cherng.
Laura Davis of New York University coauthored the study with Cherng.
About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development (@nyusteinhardt)
Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media, and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School’s mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit steinhardt.nyu.edu.
While the vast majority of Americans consider themselves unprejudiced, many of us unintentionally make snap judgments about people based on what we see—whether it’s race, age, gender, religion, sexuality, or disability. The Love Has No Labels campaign challenges us to open our eyes to our bias and prejudice and work to stop it in ourselves, our friends, our families, and our colleagues. Rethink your bias at http://www.lovehasnolabels.com