Charter Schools to the Rescue! Really?

Connecticut’s new Education Commissioner, Stefan Pryor, is an unapologetic fan of charter schools.  As reported in the CTMirror, Pryor recently toured the Amistad Academy, the New Haven-based charter school that he helped create when he worked in New Haven.

His message:  The Amistad Academy is an extraordinary success.  He added that Connecticut’s present school funding system serves as a “barrier” to opening more charter schools and that he is promising to change that.

Pryor and other charter school advocates claim that the Amistad Academy and other charter schools provide a measurably better education than do public schools and are engaged in an all out lobbying and public relations campaign to change the way Connecticut funds its schools, shifting scarce resources from our public schools to the charter schools.

Putting aside, for the moment, the evidence that some charter schools get better results because they are “creaming off the highest performing students” and therefore naturally have slightly higher test schools, there is a much more profound and important question.

Universally recognized as one of the most important Supreme Court rulings in the history of the United States, the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka declared that segregated schools are fundamentally and inherently unconstitutional.

The case overturned the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson in which the U.S. Supreme Court, in all its racist glory, claimed that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were acceptable.

The Brown v. Board of Education case helped create the civil rights movement of the 1960s by determining that in this country “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The time had finally come.  Separate and unequal schools were illegal and even separate but equal schools were illegal.

In the last 55 years this case has had a profound impact on educational policy and American society.

The Connecticut Supreme Court went even further.  When one of the attorneys in the famous Sheff desegregation case said, “the state has an obligation to provide great, racially diverse schools,” Connecticut’s Supreme Court agreed and ordered the legislature to take definitive action to reduce racial isolation in the state’s urban public schools.

Many of those who have clamored for charter schools, including Connecticut’s new Education Commissioner, have claimed that charter schools would be an important mechanism for reducing racial isolation.

Just last year the president of Achievement First, one of the largest nonprofit corporations in the charter school business, with over 20 charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, told Connecticut legislators that they were ready to open a new charter high school in Hartford that would provide a racially integrated education.  This comes from the organization whose Connecticut charter schools are among the most racially isolated in the state.

The Connecticut State Department of Education collects data from all public, charter and magnet schools and annually publishes Strategic School Profiles.  Those reports shed light on how, virtually across the board, Connecticut’s charter schools are failing to reduce racial isolation.

In Bridgeport, where the public school body is 91.4% minority, Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy is 98.7% minority.

Bridgeport’s other two major charter schools are also more racially isolated than the city’s schools. The Bridge Academy’s student body is 99.2% minority and Park City Prep is 98.8%.

Connecticut’s capitol city of Hartford has a school system that is 92.6% minority and, once again, the charter schools in the city are even more racially isolated.  Achievement First’s Harford Academy and the Jumoke Academy’s student body are both 99.5% minority.

And finally, in New Haven, where the commissioner portrayed the Amistad Academy as an extraordinary success, the public schools have 86.9% minority populations while Achievement First’s Amistad Academy is far more racially isolated with 98.1% of students being minority. Achievement First’s other New Haven charter school, Elm City College Prep, comes in even with 98.9% minority.

The Connecticut State Department of Education’s School Profile Reports reveal that virtually all of Connecticut’s charter schools are providing an educational environment that is more racially isolated than the public schools systems that they were designed to help.

Interestingly, the statistic is true for most but not all charter schools.  For example the Common Ground School in New Haven, is successfully providing a more racially diverse learning environment with 81.9% minority compared to the City’s 86.9% number.

As charter schools and their advocates push even harder for more taxpayer funds so they can open more charter schools, State Education Commissioner Pryor will play a vital role as the State Department of Education acts on seven new charter school applications that would create spaces for another 1,600 students.

Meanwhile simply pointing to standardized test scores and claiming they prove charter schools are better is not only simplistic but also a completely false exercise.  Like New Haven’s public schools, the Achievement First charter schools in New Haven failed to meet the state’s required improvement goals.

Furthermore and far more importantly, when it comes to the vital and constitutionally mandated issue of reducing racial isolation, Connecticut’s charter schools are taking the state in exactly the wrong direction.

 

 

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