Recently, Nashville Public School’s Board rejected a proposal to open a new charter school in a middle class neighborhood. One of the board members who voted against the proposal said it would have brought “us dangerously close to ‘separate but unequal.”
Separate and unequal seems to be the rite of passage as more and more American students grow up in charter schools. Charter schools are an increasingly large part of urban education with more than half of the nations charter schools housed in urban areas.
Studies over the past twenty years have demonstrated that integrated education leads not only to achievement gains in math and reading for African-American and Latino children, but also better career opportunities, less involvement with the criminal justice system, and a greater tendency for graduates to live in integrated neighborhoods, have friends from many races and ethnic groups, and to be employed in diverse workplaces later in life. School integration is crucial to a participatory democracy that transcends race.
A recent report shows that the proliferation of charter schools has led to classrooms being more segregated today than they were 30 years ago. In a cruel reversal, suburban schools have become more diverse for white students at the same time that urban schools are becoming more segregated for minority students.
We can look at Chicago as an example. Chicago public radio station WBEZ recently tallied the numbers for the nations third largest city. The number of Chicago public schools that are 90 percent or more black has increased in the last 20 years, from 276 to 287. That’s despite a 57,000-student drop in black enrollment in the district. Thirty-nine percent of all CPS Hispanic students go to extremely racially isolated schools. This is up from 20 years ago, when 17 percent of Hispanics went to such schools.
Phyllis Lockett, president and CEO of New Schools for Chicago, which encourages and funds charter school creation, says the number of highly segregated black and Latino schools is growing because a single school 20 years ago may have held many more students. Because charter schools are smaller, the same number of students could be spread out in 2 or more schools.
But if those students were spread out more evenly, let’s call it integration; these numbers would look very different. The number of integrated Chicago schools has dropped from 106 schools in 1990 to 66 schools today. School choice in American cities hasn’t depended on an address in a long time. There is no excuse for an increase in school segregation and isolation.
Magnet schools used to be the shiny solution for failing schools; now the hot new thing is charter schools. With both options the American public gets a downward slide towards segregated urban schools that has gone on for 30 years and counting.
Brown v. the Board of Education electrified the nation against state sponsored education almost 60 years ago. Now, the number of black and brown residents of American cities is rapidly reaching the 50% mark. We have almost gone full circle with school segregation and it’s costing the next generation their hopes and dreams.