A recent study wrongly blames an increase in segregated
schools on charter schools, according to charter school advocates.
The study, released in February, said the number of schools
in Michigan that have 80 percent or more black students has increased by more
than 130 schools over the past several years. The number of such schools
increased from 294 in 1992 to 431 in 2005. Of the 137 additional schools, 87
"It’s not to blame it on charter schools but to say, if
anything, charter schools are exacerbating the problem," David Plank,
co-director of Michigan State University’s Education Policy Center, told Booth
Newspapers. "What we’re doing is providing African-American parents whose
children are in racially isolated schools the choice of attending other racially
School choice advocates disagree. Harrison Blackmond,
president of the Detroit chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options
says the quality of the school, not its racial makeup, is what matters.
"It’s the black students who are leaving the public schools –
not because they want to segregate themselves, but because they want a chance at
a better education," Blackmond told Booth. "The real story is not the
segregation, the real story is the flight of African-American students out of
these underperforming schools."
Charter school leaders say "segregation," which calls to mind
racism, discrimination and Jim Crow laws, is an inappropriate term. Families of
any color that choose to leave the public school to which their children have
been assigned and enroll at a charter school are not being forced but are making
that choice on their own.
Nelson Smith, president of the National Alliance for Public
Charter Schools, pointed this out in a March Op-Ed that ran in The Detroit News.
"So when African-American parents voluntarily choose charter
schools in great numbers, as has happened in Michigan, it is disturbing to see
their choice disparaged by researchers pursuing an ideological objective," Smith
wrote. "Who is actually advancing Martin Luther King’s dream that his children
be judged ‘not on the color of their skin, but by the content of their
character?’ My money is on the parents, not the policy wonks."
Charter school enrollment in Michigan is up 13 percent this
year, to more than 92,000 students, according to the Michigan Association of
Public School Academies. Detroit charters experienced an even bigger gain, 22
percent, with more than 6,500 children on waiting lists to get into charter
"What we’ve always understood about our schools is that they
are a reflection of the communities," said Dan Quisenberry, president of MAPSA.
Telly James told The Detroit News in response to the study
that she isn’t surprised or concerned by lack of diversity in charters. Her
daughter attends a charter school in Detroit.
"The city is predominantly black," she told The News. "When
the neighborhood is black, the school is going to reflect it."
Because charter schools locate in areas where local demand is
high, it is obvious the student body is going to reflect the demographics
already in place for that particular neighborhood. A study done last December by
MAPSA and BAEO substantiates this notion.
A poll showed 60 percent of Detroit parents feel there are
not enough educational choices in the city for their families, and more than
half of them have considered moving out of the city to access options. Many who
want to move cannot, so charters are their answer.
"Minority and low-income parents are tired of their children
being trapped in failing schools and are demanding high-quality public schools
that will welcome them as partners," Smith explained in his Op-Ed. "Charter
schools are answering their call."
Plank said the underlying cause of segregated schools is
"It is a fact that Michigan is the most segregated state in
the country," Plank said. "Public policy can either endorse and reinforce that,
or try to break it down."
Because the lines for conventional public school districts
are drawn around neighborhoods, rather than following municipal borders, they
are thought to group families of the same socio-economic background together.
Ultimately, that leads to children being assigned to schools by geographic
boundaries. An April 2005 Los Angeles Times story about school boundaries said
they separate people based on "class, culture, race and ethnicity." Many believe
that eliminating those boundaries and allowing parents to choose where their
children are educated would lessen the segregation in public schools.
"I’m very sympathetic to the argument that we have a state
education system, with these anachronistic little critters called school
districts that complicate matters," Plank said. "Removing the lines by itself
wouldn’t by itself decrease segregation, but it could bring other positive
The need for more educational choices among black families
can be seen in the numbers. Michigan had the largest achievement gap in the
nation in 2004 among fourth grade students on the National Assessment of
Educational Progress reading test. Only 8 percent of black students taking the
test were proficient in reading, compared with 39 percent of white students.
"That’s tragic – proof of a school system grossly negligent of tens of
thousands of innocent children," Blackmond said. "This is the greatest civil
rights issue of our day."