Charter Schools Cannot Be Prettified

Recent “Study” Funded by Billionaires Downplays Intensification of Segregation by Charter Schools

A July 2019 “study” funded by the pro-privatization Walton Family Foundation, “Charter School Effects on School Segregation,” reports that charter schools intensify racial and ethnic segregation, but not by much and for reasons that are supposedly understandable and acceptable. The authors of the “study” want the public to believe that we should not be too concerned about the role of charter schools in increasing segregation. We are to believe that deregulated privately-operated charter schools are really not that bad.

As opposition to charter schools grows, the public should expect a non-stop intensification in efforts by charter school advocates to keep mystifying charter schools in order to dupe the gullible. The desperate desire to prettify charter schools so as to keep looting public schools is driven by wealthy private interests obsessed with maximizing profits in the context of an economy that continually lowers the rate and amount of profit for owners of capital.

This unlimited greed compels short-sighted charter school supporters to defend the indefensible while ignoring reality. Pay-the-rich schemes like charter schools are critical to the rich and their allies. An end to segregated charter schools would necessarily mean an enormous loss of public money for wealthy private interests who operate with impunity.

It has long been known that public schools are segregated because we live in a segregated society. American society has been a class-divided society for centuries. But more than two decades of research has definitively shown that charter schools, which are rife with fraud, markedly intensify segregation, mainly by race, ability, language, and income. The segregation effects of charter schools are not small. For example, in Minnesota, where the nation’s first charter school law was passed in 1991, “charter schools are at the forefront of school segregation. Of the 50 most racially concentrated Twin Cities schools, 45 are charters” (emphasis added). ((Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, The Minnesota school choice project: Part I: Segregation and performance, 2017, p. 2.)) These charter schools also underperform public schools. The work of Iris Rotberg and many others also show that charter schools have generated similar patterns of segregation in many other communities across the country.

To be sure, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools do not enhance racial, ethnic, or economic integration. Nor do they close the “achievement gap,” improve accountability, or reduce corruption. Unlike public schools, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are notorious for regularly cherry-picking students.

The Walton Foundation-funded “study,” which does not examine economic segregation, deliberately couches the role of charter schools in increasing segregation in vague language and self-serving equivocations, intentionally promoting doubt about and downplaying the actual role of charter schools in increasing segregation. It is also worth noting that the billionaire-funded “study” does not examine the large effects of charter schools on segregation between 1991 and 1998, or between 2015 and 2019.

The public should expect desperate charter school promoters to try to get lots of mileage out of this top-down “study” funded by wealthy private interests determined to privatize education. Charter school advocates will continue to conveniently ignore extensive research that shows that nonprofit and for-profit charter schools increase all forms of inequality and stratification, while also depriving public schools of massive sums of public money each year.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at Read other articles by Shawgi.