Originally published in Education Post.
Reactions to public charter schools seem to exist on an either/or dichotomy characterized by extremes. They are either the only answer to our country’s educational problems or the very reason why our children, and entire communities, are doomed to chronic failure.
The reality is far more nuanced—a nuance lost in a recent New York Times op-ed by Los Angeles writer Erin Aubry Kaplan.
Kaplan argues: “Today Los Angeles and California as a whole have abandoned integration as the chief mechanism of school reform and embraced charter schools instead.”
But school integration initiatives did not stall because of charter schools. School integration and busing programs peaked in the 1980s during the Reagan era, nearly a decade before the first charter school opened in 1992.
Charter schools made up only a tiny fraction of the school-age population until about 15 years ago, and the majority of the population growth has occurred in the last decade.
School integration efforts, on the other hand, ended well before the first charter schools arrived. And that was mostly due to overwhelming political pushback and White flight.
In fact, Kaplan is correct that schools are indeed more segregated now than in recent memory, but this is a result of housing and school district policies and practices, among other things.
CHARTERS AS A LEVER FOR INTEGRATION
Public charter schools, in contrast, can and do serve as powerful mechanisms for school integration.
The truth is that many charter schools across the country, especially those in the Diverse Charter School Coalition, work hand-in-hand with district partners to help combat the very challenging realities of school segregation. Charter schools are working collectively to be part of the solution.
Too often, various legal and political challenges to desegregation stop traditional district schools from integrating their student bodies. Now, intentionally diverse charter schools are using the flexibility of chartering to move beyond these restrictions.
What’s more, it’s working. There are over 50,000 students attending over 100 charter schools across the United States that are intentionally diverse. These integrated schools not only benefit students’ academic and social emotional development, they also benefit entire communities, uniting people across lines of difference.
Knowing the power of diversity and integration in schools, at the Coalition we focus our efforts on supporting, promoting and growing these schools. We are tackling the challenges of running diverse school environments and sharing best practices for serving diverse communities. Moreover, we hope to expand our interactions with traditional schools and we hope to serve as models for charters and traditional schools alike.
We invite anyone dedicated to this cause—including Kaplan—to come together to realize our shared vision for integrated public schools.