Separate and Equal

A new study by the school employee union-sponsored Great Lakes Center for Educational Research and Practice claims charter schools managed by education management organizations are "strongly racial segregative." However, the report's use of the term "segregation" is misleading, and the overall conclusions add little to the debate over charter schools.

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The authors of the study claim that charter schools have "the potential to drastically alter the diversity of the nation's schools."  This claim is quite a stretch, as less than 3 percent of American students are enrolled in charter schools. Even if every single charter school was completely segregated by race, it wouldn't impact the nation's overall level of school segregation.

More importantly, the study uses a distorted definition of racial segregation by comparing the student population in charter schools only to the student population in the conventional public school district where the charter is located.

Any charter school that differs in racial composition from the school district in which it operates is deemed "segregative," even if that charter school is in fact more racially integrated than the district schools. This methodology labels all charters as segregative unless the charter has almost exactly the same racial make-up as the conventional district school. In effect, the study places more value on sameness than integration.

The study slices and dices statistics in an attempt to show that certain types of charters tend to "segregate" more than others. In the end, though, the authors admit that charter schools nationwide enroll only 1.47 percent more minority students than schools in their surrounding area, which leads to the unimpressive conclusion that charter schools enroll about the same proportion of minority students as all schools. 

Since charter school enrollment is determined by parental choice, this study has virtually no policy implications. Unless the state wants to limit the charter school option to only certain students in an attempt to fulfill a racial quota (a very real form of segregation), policymakers should move this study aside and find ways to expand educational options for all children, regardless of their race.