By Kimberly Smith and Trish Dziko, National Charter Collaborative
We’ve spent the past week trying to decipher the motivations behind the recent Associated Press article that claims charter schools are encouraging segregation solely by the fact that many educate underserved Black and Brown children. The articles – which appeared in localized versions in Albany, Detroit and Columbus – claim that while four percent of district schools enrolled a student body that is 99 percent students of color in 2014 – 2015, 17 percent of charters did as well.
To begin, charter schools are public schools that are free and open to all students. Despite overwhelming parent demand, charter schools still represent six percent of all public schools nationwide. The suggestion that charter schools are responsible for the lack of diversity in America’s public schools is flattering given our small scale but absurd.
When did it become “segregation” to choose to invest in children who are living in poverty so they can have a fighting chance in the world? If charter schools are perpetuating segregation, then so are community health centers, inner city YMCA programs and homeless shelter food lines – all who serve predominantly Black and Brown people. It is utterly ridiculous to call efforts to support Black and Brown children segregation. The only reason these types of services are necessary is to counter the long list of injustices and inequalities inflicted on people of color. Our organization, the National Charter Collaborative, represents over 400 Black and Brown charter school leaders — many of whom have dedicated their lives to educating underserved Black and Brown children, which, unfortunately is necessary because society has a habit of leaving children of color behind.
Public charter schools are here to give parents a choice on where to send their child to school — the same choice an affluent suburban white parent is afforded. The same critics who slam school choice often have the privilege of living in high-quality school districts, have the ability to move closer to a higher performing school, chose private schools or homeschool their children. The wealthy exercise school choice all the time. It’s only when these conversations extend to giving parents with fewer resources more options that it becomes a debate.
To suggest that charter schools that locate in low-income neighborhoods to give parents choice are perpetuating segregation is just a veiled attempt to undermine the idea of school choice. Segregation is a purposeful and willful effort to separate individuals. At its worst, it creates a socio-economic chasm between white and Black, rich and poor. While the charter sector is not void of racial issues and tensions, the notion that charter schools are driving segregation is baseless. The real culprit is a society that creates a manifest destiny for impoverished children of color by denying their parents the right to choose a high-quality education – be it public charter or public district. Stop blaming the symptom and focus on the virus that caused the disease.