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  • US charter schools add to racial isolation

    Charter schools are among the nation’s most segregated, according to an Associated Press analysis in December of 2017 — an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools.

    National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.

    Looking at 2014-2015 enrollment numbers, Maine’s white students were the most racially isolated of any such group in the country. In total, 83 percent of Maine’s white students attend schools where at least 90 percent of the total student population is white. 

    The problem: Those levels of segregation correspond with low achievement levels at schools of all kinds.

    In the AP analysis of student achievement in the 42 states that have enacted charter school laws, along with the District of Columbia, the performance of students in charter schools varies widely. But schools that enroll 99 percent minorities — both charters and traditional public schools — on average have fewer students reaching state standards for proficiency in reading and math.

    “Desegregation works. Nothing else does,” said Daniel Shulman, a Minnesota civil rights attorney. “There is no amount of money you can put into a segregated school that is going to make it equal.”

    Shulman singled out charter schools for blame in a lawsuit that accuses the state of Minnesota of allowing racially segregated schools to proliferate, along with achievement gaps for minority students. Minority-owned charters have been allowed wrongly to recruit only minorities, he said, as others wrongly have focused on attracting whites.

    Even some charter school officials acknowledge this is a concern.

    In Maine, the AP’s analysis of U.S. Department of Education data indicates the Baxter Academy for Technology and Sciences was far less diverse than neighboring schools in Portland, based on enrollment for the 2014-2015 school year.

    And the data show the school became more segregated as its total enrollment doubled in its second year of operation. In the 2014-2015 school year, the school’s black student population dropped to 7 from 13, compared with the prior year. Meanwhile, its white population doubled.