Friday, December 16, 2011

Miami Herald Article Demonstrates Problems with Charter Schools Serving Low-Income Schools

Florida seems to be the happening place for interesting education news this month.   First there was the school board member who took and failed the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, and now there is an expose by the Miami Herald about the low numbers of low-income students in South Florida being served by charter schools.  In many cases, the charter schools have 30 percentage points or more FEWER low-income students than the community they serve and than the enrollment in the traditional public school  serving the same area.  The paper also notes that they are many fewer black students (1/5th of charter students in Miami-Dade are black, compared to 1/3 of traditional schools) and many more Hispanic students (nearly 90% of charter school students in Miami-Dade are Hispanic, compared to 58% in the public schools).

The school also talks about schools with higher percentages of gifted and talented students, even though enrollment is supposed to be determined through a blind lottery.  Some question whether the charter schools are targeting such populations, despite state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination or favoritism.

I can't go into all the details, but I encourage people to read the original article here.  However, I can understand the charter schools' rebuttals.  The truth is that applying to charter schools requires more energy, attention, and knowledge than it does to go to a regular public school.  I don't find it far-fetched to believe that families with more--more money, more time, more gifted students, more educated parents--apply to these schools at much higher rates, and thus are a disproportionate segment of charter school student.

I also find it reasonable when charter schools argue that it is hard to find safe, appropriate, and affordable space for a school in downtown urban settings, and so most in Miami are located in the suburbs, which is not where the neediest kids live.  Also, because charter schools are not required to provide transportation, only 40% of the charter schools in Miami-Dade have buses.   That is a huge obstacle for most of the urban poor, which effectively eliminates the possibility of attending such innovative schools.

So while I don't know that there is active discrimination going on, the article demonstrates why the rush to increase charter schools (as was passed this year by the new Republican majority here in North Carolina) could end up making our schools even more separate and unequal than they already are.

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