Report: Charter schools a “civil rights failure”

Researchers with the Civil Rights Project, now based at UCLA, released a report today, “Choice Without Equity.” They said they found greater racial segregation in charter schools than in regular public schools.

Seven years after the Civil Rights Project first documented extensive patterns of charter school segregation, the charter sector continues to stratify students by race, class and possibly language.

The report said that in California, charters provide “havens for white re-segregation from public schools,” and that Latino students are underrepresented. Neither of those things is true in Oakland, as far as I can see.

It’s an interesting point, though, because the goal of many local charter schools seems to be to serve low-income students — which, in Oakland, typically means children who aren’t white. In fact, just think about the solution being proposed in Berkeley Unified to help the city’s lower-achieving (and largely black and Latino) high school students: a charter school just for them.

Civil Rights Project Director Gary Orfield favors magnet schools; he said today that he wants the Obama administration to stop pushing charters.

Do you agree with Orfield? Are you concerned about the racial makeup of the Bay Area’s charter schools (or its regular public schools, for that matter), or do you think the quality of those schools is a more important question?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://www.myschool.org Music Watson

    I think Jed Wallace, CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, got it right when he said “the civil rights issue here is the persistent achievement gap and high drop-out rates for these students when
    they are left to languish in traditional schools that fail to meet their academic needs.”

    Over the last three years, charter schools in
    Oakland have vastly outperformed traditional
    schools across grade levels and with African
    American, Latino, Asian, English learner, and
    socioeconomically disadvantaged students. (Read more at http://bit.ly/b5gZDE)

  • localed

    Here’s what Superintendents are discussing in regards to California Charters.


  • Steven Weinberg

    I skimmed the report and saw very little evidence that most California charters “are havens for white re-segregation from public schools,” but considerable evidence that blacks and Latinos in charter schools will have less contact with white students than they would have had in the average public school in the state. The study did not compare student experiences in charters to the experiences the same students would have had if they had remained in their neighborhood schools, so the fact that many charters spring up in areas with large non-white populations may account for part of the difference.
    Charters, like many voluntary groups, can become racially segregated. Some charters and some small schools in Oakland are almost entirely a single race, even in neighborhoods where there is some diversity.
    Some charters may help re-segregate. Palisades High School in Los Angeles probably was the highest socio-economic school in LA Unified School District. It became one of the first charter schools in California, and it has a population that is 77% white. I’m not sure what its racial breakdown would be if it were still part of LAUSD, but the Civil Rights Project is clearly correct that charters have not increase integration.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon Higgins

    Music Watson: I am of the understanding that parents of typically low-performing subgroups who seek charter schools are considerably more educationally motivated than the average parent in their same subgroup. As a result they work harder to insure that their children are segregated from children who have less conscientious and less capable parents than themselves, primarily because they are concerned about the negative peer influence from those other children. Do you agree or disagree?

    In addition, I am of the understanding that charter schools give parents who have a stronger orientation toward education the opportunity to place their children in schools that contain the children of parents who are quite similar to themselves, i.e. the type of parent who is willing to undertake the effort to research a particular type of charter school and then do the series of tasks that are required to get their child into that school.

    I do not believe (but you might) that all parents of the same ethnicity, language, or socioeconomic status of any subgroup have the same orientation toward their children’s educations, nor engage to the same degree. That’s why your second statement is utter nonsense to me.

    I know for a fact that some of Oakland’s charter schools actively recruit high performing students from local elementary schools (eg. the high scoring American Indian Model charter schools), as well as strictly “counsel out” students who don’t meet whatever demands they make. Most also avoid enrolling special education students. So, the fact that charter schools are dealing with an ever more highly compliant subset of students (very few of whom have disabilities) will account for the higher test scores, the outperformance you refer to. It is, however, completely illogical to claim superiority based on a comparison of two different things, so why do charter school supporters constantly do it?

    So for all these reasons, you just might be able to see how it is perfectly reasonable for me to think that charter schools aren’t naturally superior, but that charter schools are actively and passively able to contain their enrollment to limited, and advantageous, types of students, but still get funded with public money. The fact that charter schools are a form of state-condoned segregation (you’d call it “choice”) is just one thing about them that bothers people in the anti-charter camp. To them the promotion of more and more school segregation based on parent preferences and degree of parent involvement seems like a dangerous and slippery slope. What do you think?

    But say we keep going down that road of converting all the traditional take-all-comers public schools to selective charters. Then please explain to me what you envision for the future of all those children who don’t have effective parent advocates, and who no charter school would ever want?

  • The real issue

    Sharon Said:
    “I know for a fact that some of Oakland’s charter schools actively recruit high performing students from local elementary schools (eg. the high scoring American Indian Model charter schools), as well as strictly “counsel out” students who don’t meet whatever demands they make. Most also avoid enrolling special education students. So, the fact that charter schools are dealing with an ever more highly compliant subset of students (very few of whom have disabilities) will account for the higher test scores, the outperformance you refer to. It is, however, completely illogical to claim superiority based on a comparison of two different things, so why do charter school supporters constantly do it?”

    The key word is in your first sentence, “some.” Not all charter schools do this, but they are constantly blamed for this. Many charter schools are public schools with a lottery system for enrollment. They don’t even ask n the statement of interest or application if students are SPED.

    I think the bigger civil rights issue, is the fact that schools like Berkeley High School allow 40% of their black students to fail math or English, 30% of their latino students, but only 5% of their white students. Their solution. Dedicate one teacher for one year to see if they can make a difference for minority students. Is this really going to work? Probably not.

    If the traditional schools aren’t doing their jobs, why aren’t we up in arms about that instead of focusing on charter schools that actually help students prepare for college.

  • Nextset

    It is of no consequence to me that the schools are segregated as long as there is no sign or policy that only certain races/colors/whatever go in or out.

    It is to be expected that race sorting will occur (to various extent) when the schools select or deselect for things the various races like/dislike. Who cares? Not much you can or should do about that in a free society.

    A school with a severe academic bent is going to be heavy on German Jews, Whites, Asians, whatever because those groups have a higher proclivity to want such schools and to perform/survive that kind of course. Is this a problem? To some people I suppose. Football Programs are not going to be heavy with Asians and Jews. Whites may turn up in numbers because there are so many more of them to draw from. Is this enough to get everyone upset? Who cares?

    People do what they want. People want different things sometime based on what they have advantages in. It does no good to wring hands because the people aren’t doing what liberals think they should.

    Sharon put it very well about AIM counseling “out” those who don’t fit in their program and having a population of “compliant” students and parents – this is not a race neutral thing. Too bad, So sad.

    People are not created equal. Except before the law. Get over it. There is plenty to work with in life for everyone and most people like being themselves.

    No intelligent people care what the “Civil Rights Project” thinks or says. They are just another in a long list of race hustlers. This nation is not about divvying up the goodies by race. The race hustlers are seeing their influence and power vanish – especially in an economic depression where no one wants to pay for their wasteful policies.

    Having said that, good teachers with a free hand can get better performance out of students than we see from OUSD scores. I suspect the good teachers are at OUSD, the free hand at OUSD is not. A lot of the poor (test score) performance of the OUSD kids is probably engendered by a whole lot of babying of the students. The Gap is fixed and cannot be eliminated without changing the people. And the people don’t want to be changed anyway.

  • Nextset

    Sharon, I think your points in your last post are to the point. The Charters have found a way to get state money to run segregated schools. Great. We used to do this with our public schools. We called them “neighborhood schools”.

    There is nothing wrong with segregated schools, segregated by ability, program type, aptitude, whatever you call it. It is the only way to run a good school. We need more of this. It works – for everyone.

    Throwing people together with no common mores and running a lowest common denominator program is not a school, it’s a jungle. No decent family puts their children in a jungle.

  • CarolineSF

    For the record, I agree with Sharon and Nextset (as does any honest and informed observer) that to the degree that charters show success, it’s connected with the fact that they enroll only students from families that cared enough to seek out a school — and then screen them coming in and get rid of them if they don’t cut it. And many charter schools, including a number in Oakland, are struggling badly, so Music Watson’s glowing picture is not accurate either. Some get gushing press while actually achieving mediocre academic performance or worse — the Envision Schools in the Bay Area and the Green Dot schools in LAUSD are two standout examples.

    But all that aside. I’ve been looking at issues with an analytical eye since my 19-year-old, a poli-sci wonk, told me about the Overton Window (Google it). This is a concept defining the process by which the public image of an idea can shift, so that an idea that was once viewed as radical or unacceptable can become popular, and vice versa.

    I’ve been noticing that school integration was once viewed as highly desirable, if not essential for a just society. Now it’s viewed as unnecessary and irrelevant, while segregation has become acceptable.

    Part of the Overton Window concept addresses the fact that the window can be shifted by a concerted (often devious) campaign. So that’s something interesting to ponder.

    (Another distressing example is that teachers used to be admired and respected, while the Overton Window has shifted and now criticizing, attacking and blaming teachers is not only acceptable but popular.)

  • http://friendsofdave.org Dave Johnston

    Those of you who insist the only reason charters are effective is because they’re only enrolling students whose parents care about education are missing the point that in many cases, these very same children with involved parents did not have success in their neighborhood school. If they’re so easy to teach that they’re responsible for the charter’s success, then why didn’t they do well in their neighborhood school?

    While it is true that many charter schools are attractive to parents who want to be more involved in their children’s education, I don’t believe that is the sole reason for charter school successes. I’d suggest instead that the successful charters are using instructional methods that are more effective than those used by their neighborhood school colleagues.

    Perhaps if traditional public school supporters spent more time looking at the strategies used by successful charter schools (and successful traditional schools for that matter) and less time making excuses for why those successful charters are somehow cheating the system, perhaps all children would receive a better education.


  • Donna

    Have you ever been in a large class with a number of disruptive students? It is difficult to teach and learn in such an environment. The teacher ends up spending an inordinate time on classroom management issues and less on teaching. If the class has fewer students and fewer kids who aren’t interested in learning, the other kids will be more successful learners.

  • Nextset

    Dave has a point. It is not only that the parents may care about education. Some of the parents just want peace and quiet and know that somebody is riding herd on their kids and their kid’s friends. That’s all.

    Whether or not a good school and a good teacher turns a student into a star is just not dependent on whether the parent of the moment is a full participant. Sorry. You can’t blame it all on the parent in the home, for good or for bad.

    A kid can be a good or bad student based on genetics. yes. Genetics. Not always but sometimes the kid is cursed or is lucky and they have the right hormone balance and IQ to be really go and certain coursework. Or really Antisocial Personality Disordered (strong belief in professional circles that is genetically involved although the traits can be induced as attachment disorder also).

    The schools have interesting students floating up on their shores sometimes especially the public schools in a large geographic area. It is not always the parents, heck, lots of kids are being reaised by step parents and other relatives also.

    The trick is for the school to sort the kids and to place the right kids in the right programs which certainly not one campus fits all lowest denominator rules.

    It is not always the teachers fault what is happening to the kids and it is not always the teachers doing that kids do well either. They just show up that way sometimes. Sometimes it really is “value added” by the teachers. Good schools add value and I don’t think OUSD is allowed to field good schools. It’s not politically correct for OUSD and large urban school districts to run good schools because if they did the chillun would be unhappy and so would a lot of the bio parents because their kids would have to tow the line or get punitive-feeling transfers and administrators would go nose to nose with all of them telling them they don’t measure up. OUSD doesn’t ever want to have to tell a lot of folks, especially black folks, that they don’t measure up and are getting cut from supposedly desirable programs.

    Well they need to. Because no one will ever change their ways unless they are faced with losing something they want. As long as “civil rights” is used to block minorities (and let’s face it, it’s minority performance failure we are dealing with) from consequences of bad behavior nothing will improve.

  • Debora

    I posted under the wrong piece of the blog – reposting – – –

    I wrote about my experience on an email list serve. It takes in Lacy’s point – but it may also address some of what Nextset has been saying.

    Those who know me know that I am often critical of many, many things in OUSD. But I would like to talk for a moment about something – I am not saying that there is a solution for what I am going to mention, and I am certainly not going to tell you that this is happening in every Oakland public school classroom because it is not. But I want to talk about something that I am so incredibly frustrated with that I am fuming, at myself, at our society, at the district, at some parents – oh, hell today I am frustrated with the world about it.

    I am working toward my teaching credential. I have passed the CSET and earn high math scores on the exam. I am taking a “Teaching Elementary Students Mathematics” course at Holy Names University and I voluntarily work with a group of students in math who are in fourth and fifth grade in an Oakland public school. These students VOLUNTARILY come to the morning class from 7:30 AM – 8:30 AM to get the extra help they need. Their benchmark tests are at about 50%. Meaning they get half right and half wrong. And, that’s only half of the story.

    If these same students are given one problem on a paper – the SAME EXACT problem they missed on the benchmark test. They solve the problem and give the answer with 100% of the time – or very close to 100% of the time. And, when solving, unlike the benchmark test, there is no multiple choice. So, I think maybe someone helped them. I ask them to explain their calculations and why they think their calculations are right. They verbally explain the answers to me, the steps they took to get to the answers, and the general “formula” or “rule” that makes it so. For example, “I know that the angles of a triangle must add up to 180 degrees. So I subtract the side that I am given from 180. Then I know that because there is a square in the corner, that means 90 degrees, so I subtract 90 degrees and I get 47 degrees. Wasn’t that right?” Well, of course it’s right. Yet, for the SAME EXACT problem on the test, worded in the same exact way, they marked 90 degrees.

    We’ve gone over test taking techniques; we’ve used the cross off the obviously wrong answers; we’ve talked about working the problem right there in the test book, looking at only one problem at a time.

    So I ask the students if they know the material – yes, they do. They are happy to show me. But when the high stakes test comes something happens. Today, we did no calculations, we just talked. Why do you think that you are not able to show what you know on the tests? I ask, here are some of the responses: I always mess up on tests. All my other teachers said I was bad in math so I guess I am really bad in math. I see all the questions and I just flip out. I see all of the problems and think I will run out of time. I see all of the problems and I pick the hard ones first and I get stuck and don’t have time for no more problems. What is math good for anyway? I see four answers and I just pick one. And the comments go on and on.

    So, I am not offering up excuses. I am not offering up solutions. I am telling you that these kids know the math on that test and if you came in and asked each student to show you his or her work on the white board, the problem presented just as written on the test, nearly every child in my group of 14 would calculate the answer and put a box around it.

    Thanks for taking the time to read – it’s all about so much more than I understand right now.

  • Nextset

    Typos today.. Sorry. And I’m preaching again. Can’t help it sometimes because I think things are not looking up for our US adolescents in the 24 to 60 months ahead.

    Huge numbers of jobs are going and they’re not coming back. Depression level living ahead.

    The drastic shift in budgets are producing shifts in behavior of merchants and people in general (try writing a check nowadays). These changes will greatly affect the uneducated and unhousebroken first. If the urban minority (largely single mother/polygamous father/broken home kids) don’t get the required civics & social training in school they are going to see lifelong reductions in earnings and quality of life.

    When the government stops providing controls (budget cuts in law enforcement, prisons and parole) individuals will quickly act to protect themselves by limiting interaction with “others”.

    This thread is on Charters. I have said I think the Charters are here to destroy the public schools and break their unions. For some reason I disagree with, the state has decided to let the Charters bleed out the publics rather than fix the publics. In so doing they are setting up a system where society segregates itself into self contained associations starting at age 5, never the twain to meet. Some shop at Costco and some shop at Wal*Mart. Everything different right down to the language spoken.

    Someone needs to take a stand that the publics must be fixed and restored to the standards we had in mid 20th Century. Too many Charters eliminates the common denominator in our population. The Charters are so different from each other and the publics they do serve as different “languages”. We won’t make it as a society if we balkanize so much.

  • Donna

    Debora (#12, your posting reminded of a study I read about several years ago. I believe it was a Stanford study, and it examined the scores of African American students, either in high school or college. When the students believed the stakes were high, they scored poorly. When they were told they didn’t count, the kids did much better. I wish I could give you the citation; unfortunately I never read the real study.

    Are the benchmark tests part of the students’ grade? I have heard from several students that when standardized tests are not part of the students’ individual grades, a certain percentage of them essentially opt out by filling in bubbles at random and the like. Whether this is a cover-up excuse for doing poorly, I do not know.

  • Gordon Danning

    I have heard claims of kids randomly bubbling answers, and arguments re: test anxiety or the lack thereof. I’m sure much of it is true. But, so what? Who says that those things do not happen in Hayward and Concord and Los Angeles. Unless we have evidence that OUSD students are more likely to exhibit those behaviors than is the norm, then they cannot explain why our test scores are not where they should be.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon Higgins

    To TheRealIssueSays: Making the charge that Berkeley High is “allowing” their Black and Latino students to fail makes little sense to me. Professors who work at one of the most prestigious, elite schools in this nation, and the type of people who are their peers, send their children to Berkeley High. In other words, some of the high-end students happen to have been born with an outstanding amount of brain power and good fortune. Do you really think the school can be the singular entity which perfectly levels the playing field? As Richard Rothstein explains in “Class and Schools,” (which I strongly advise anyone interested in these issues to read), it is ridiculous to expect that schools will ever be able to close our vast socioeconomic gaps on their own.

    I’ve been following online comments in national postings about the findings of this Civil Rights Project report. One of the most insightful I’ve encountered made the point that what should be followed more than racial/ethnic segregation is socioeconomic segregation. I tend to agree with that.

    Normally, I stick to defending my arguments with objective facts dug up from DataQuest, or from research by others. But in this case I will also argue against allowing any trend which increases socioeconomic segregation for subjective, very personal reasons.

    I was a child who had an extremely unstable childhood. I grew up in a household with a very young, multiply-divorcing, struggling single mother who didn’t have the support of either of her own parents. She grew up under circumstances fairly similar to those of OUSD’s most dysfunctional kids. My father was nearly absentee, and lived in another state. Both my parents were working class; neither had attended college. Since both were single children, the extended family was negligible.

    Fortunately, I ended up living in a town with socioeconomically integrated secondary schools and was able to make friends with kids who had things like fathers and stable home lives. They were upper middle-class and lived in nicely furnished, three-story houses. They regularly went to summer camp and on expensive family vacations, and eventually to private colleges. For some reason or they other they accepted me, so I was able to get an firsthand look into their family lives. One time I was served tomato aspic at my friend’s farewell to boarding school. Another time I was corrected on how to use my spoon with soup.

    During that time I was acutely aware of our class differences, and digested the information about their lives thinking I might be able to use it as some sort of model for what my future life might be. I believe my personal socioeconomic status was raised a notch or two because of what I learned by experiencing a socioeconomically integrated environment. I’d like to see more, not fewer, kids get a similar opportunity.

  • Steven Weinberg

    In answer to Debora’s post #12. We faced similar problems at the middle school where I worked. One problem is that many of the bubble the answer multiple choice tests that students are given do not count for grades so the students do not do their best on them. Some believe that they can pick out the correct answer without doing the work. Some of our teachers had success by insisting that the students write out their calculations for all the benchmark problems and turn them in for a grade, and then go back and fill in the bubbles on the answer sheet.
    One year we also had students go over every mistake on the benchmark tests and then redo all the questions they got wrong. As you would expect, the scores went up on the retests, but they also went up on the first attempt at the next scheduled benchmarks because the students knew they would have to redo any question they missed.
    Good luck with your studies, and thank you for your volunteer work, especially so early in the morning.

  • Nextset

    Sharon: I agree with your post in #16. It is vital that more kids get that opportunity.

    Our urban public schools are making sure they don’t get that opportunity by teaching them in ways that ensure they are unable to pass into middle class/upper class society at all, including as employees – or even as customers. It starts by not teaching standard english, then finishes by not teaching such mores as honesty and fair play, modesty and boundries, and respect for authority. Yes, it really is the school’s job to teach these things. Even worse the urban public schools teach their opposites – Bad grammar and vocabulary, promiscuity, lying, cheating and stealing, attention seeking and roughshodding, and lewdness.

    I’m not saying the teachers publish a course catalog in all this but the products of these schools are well schooled in such by the time they drop out or “graduate” as uneducated people.

    One of the nice things about the Catholic education is that regardless of how poor you were, and we did have poor students – everybody knew the rules and when they wanted something (or didn’t want to get punished) could be on their best behavior and pass as well turned out kids. Even if they weren’t. Our public school products just can’t pass. Starting with the telephone test.

    So they don’t get pass the velvet rope in life. Not like they should be able to. If they only went to better schools.

  • Nextset

    Gordon Danning: re # 15, When I was in school guessing on multiple choice tests was discouraged by being penalized by wrong answers. You received negative points equal to the number of wrong answers devided by the possible answers. If you had 8 wrong answers on a set of 4 choice questions you received an additional negative 2. So guessing only made sense if you could safely eliminate some of the possible answers to a given question.

    And even through grade school and public high school, poor academic performance would result in expulsion. If you didn’t fit in you were sent elsewhere where you would fit in. This is what is needed in these “schools”.