Connecticut “schools of choice” are a vehicle for discrimination

Fellow commentator and public school Advocate Wendy Lecker’s latest column in the Stamford Advocate examines CT Voices for Children’s new research report which is entitled, ”Choice Watch: Diversity and Access in Connecticut’s School Choice Programs.”  The study found that charter schools and other “choice schools” systematically prevent equal access to some of the state’s neediest students.

As Wendy Lecker reports,

Of special concern, the report found that Connecticut charter schools are “hypersegregated” — at least 90 percent minority. Furthermore, the authors revealed that charters grossly underserve English Language Learners (`ELL”) and students with disabilities.

Connecticut Voices noted that charters have a financial incentive to exclude ELL students. Unlike the cost of special education services, which is borne by the district where a charter school student lives, charter schools must pay for ELL programs and services. If, however, a charter has fewer than 20 ELL students, it is not required to provide an ELL program.

Connecticut’s rating system, which judges and sanctions schools based on standardized tests scores, provides more reasons to exclude. ELL students and students with disabilities tend to score lower on standardized tests, therefore charter schools look higher performing when they do not have either subgroup.

A traditional public school would never be able to get away with excluding any child in their district. Such a move would be illegal. However, the state enables the charter schools’ exclusionary behavior. Charters are not required to have specific diversity targets in enrollment. Moreover, while in theory a charter can be revoked if a charter school does not serve enough ELL or students with disabilities, no charter school has ever suffered that fate. With an Education Commissioner who is a founder of one of the worst offending charter chains, charters are safe to continue their exclusionary practices.

The fact that these publically funded “choice schools” have become a vehicle to further segregate our society undermines the very essence of our public education system.

As Wendy Lecker explains,

The idea of equity for all was the driving force behind the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. declared that “I am never what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.

“Lyndon Johnson’s motto was “doing the greatest good for the greatest number.”

The principles of communal good underpinned Connecticut’s commitment to school integration. Connecticut’s Supreme Court deemed that having children of different backgrounds learn together is vital “to gain the understanding and mutual respect necessary for the cohesion of our society.” The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall maintained: “Unless our children learn together, there is little hope that our people will learn to live together.”

Armed with the evidence provided by the new CT Voices for Children Report, Wendy Lecker concludes,

As voters, we have a choice. We can recommit ourselves to school integration, realizing that instilling in our children a sense of community is the key to our cohesion as a democratic state. Or, we can allow politicians to school our children in avoidance, and risk becoming like the fractious and unstable nations we see in the world around us.

Be sure to read Wendy Lecker entire column which can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Some-needy-students-frozen-out-of-5413855.php

You can read and download the CT Voices for Children report at: http://www.ctvoices.org/publications/choice-watch-diversity-and-access-connecticuts-school-choice-programs.

  • jrp1900

    The analysis offered by Wendy Lecker makes very plain the real politics behind school reform. US society can either make a bold effort at school desegregation or it can pursue a dogmatic policy of school privatization. These are opposed options because privatization makes school desegregation less, not more, likely. The evidence is in and it cannot be denied that school privatization is deeply grounded in the realities of class and “racial” segregation, and that instead of blunting these realities, it tends to exacerbate them.
    If only more Americans would do a little more critical thinking, they would see that privatization of public goods and services has NEVER resulted in egalitarian outcomes. Markets just don’t work that way. In market relationships people get what they are entitled to as a certain class of consumer, and marketized schooling is no different. Private schools are fast increasing in number in every state in the union, mostly in poor urban communities. But no one will ever confuse an inner city charter school with Phillips Academy! There is private and then there is PRIVATE. Privatization brings on greater degrees of exclusivity, and so there is nothing at all unexpected in Connecticut charter schools rejecting ELL and Special Ed students. If everyone could go to the local charter school then there would be nothing exclusive about it. To make it exclusive you have to exclude people. The reformers well understand that in the hyper-competitive USA, when something is exclusive it immediately becomes more desirable to some. These same people are ecstatic when their child wins the lottery and gains admittance into the charter school. They don’t seem overly concerned that the charter school is less about education than “test prep” and nor do they care a whit for the children left behind in the dingy, “failing” public schools. It’s every person for herself in the American jungle.
    If school privatization were really about social justice then it would be linked to broader reforms in the districting and funding of schools. If school communities were mixed by class and race this would clearly have a positive effect on narrowing the so-called “achievement gap,” as the gap is so obviously an outcome of concentrating the poor into economic wastelands. Corporate reformers say they want to do something about the gap, but they aren’t very serious. They leave all educational and social inequalities completely untouched, and are content to drill their charges in the wonders of standardized testing. In other words, they ignore the elephant in the room and only have eyes for the mouse, running back and forth across the bare floor.
    Corporate reformers don’t care about “hypersegregation,” because they don’t really care about racism, poverty or marginalization. What matters for them is privatizing public schools. Notice that the big people behind reform–from Bill Gates to Walton to the Kochs–are not exactly known for their civil rights record in any other respect. If Mr. Eli Broad or David Koch has stood with the people protesting police brutality or discrimination in housing, I must have missed that report. But I don’t think I missed that report, because I don’t think it has ever happened. The “philanthropists” (LOL) care about inner city schooling not because “it is the civil rights issue of our time,” but because it is the market opportunity of our time–there are literally billions of dollars circulating in American public education, and those who already own the wealth of the Indies cannot pass up the chance to grab some of those billions for themselves.
    Wendy Lecker is right that long term social stability is surely placed at risk when the sense of the public begins to fracture. But the reformers don’t mind: as market fundamentalists, they believe in the wonders of ruthless competition. The invisible hand, rising tide lifts all boats and other such nonsense. The real virtue of the market is simple: a people divided, is a people easily ruled.
    The

    • Mary Gallucci

      Wow, fabulous analysis. Add this to the incisive article by Wendy Lecker and the comprehensive report by Robert Cotto–it is clear where all the brains and moral rectitude lie… but such qualities have never won the popularity contests or political skin games.
      Pryor is out grabbing every privatization opportunity he can find. I believe he loves segregation.

      • Castles Burning

        Mary, I am still reeling from your last sentence: “I believe he loves segregation.” How simple and profound, cutting right to the heart of the matter. I understand Pryor much more having heard it.

    • Castles Burning

      Yes, fabulous analysis, jrp1900. I especially liked this point: “If school privatization were really about social justice, then it would be linked to broader reforms in the districting and funding of schools” as it is a key critique and a clear demarcation of why corporate reform is not the “civiil rights issue of our times.” I take note of it to encourage its use. It stops many arguments “right in their tracks.”

  • Castles Burning

    This narrative and the one it references illuminate what Ms. Lecker says:

    http://dianeravitch.net/2014/04/21/another-charter-teacher-tells-her-story-tame-the-savages/

  • Guest

    Where are the Sheff vs. O’Neil supporters? I thought that the desegregation of urban schoolswas already settled through legal settlements. What am I missing?