This blog post is intended to shed light and promote discussion and debate about a vital education policy issue facing public education.
Once considered outside of the mainstream, charter schools have become a major player in the national debate about education reform. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, has already donated more than $450 million to support charter schools around the country and Gates himself has called charter schools “the only schools that have the full opportunity to innovate”.
In 1992, Minnesota and California were the first states to pass charter school laws. By 1995, 19 states had adopted laws allowing the creation of charter schools and by 2003 a total of 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia had all joined the effort to support the creation of charter schools
Connecticut, home of the largest achievement gap in the nation, has also witnessed the rise of charter schools as an appropriate educational model (along with magnet schools and “Open Choice programs” that allow some students to move within the public education system).
Connecticut joined the Charter School band-wagon in 1996 when legislation was adopted promoting the creation of charter schools. According to a recent report from the State Department of Education, it was felt that “charter schools could serve as a catalyst for innovation in the state’s public schools. It was also anticipated that charters could serve as another effective vehicle to reduce the racial and economic isolation of Connecticut’s public school students.”
Backed by evidence that charter schools were successfully improving standardized test scores advocates were able to persuade Connecticut policy makers to dramatically increase state support for charter schools. Through the state’s Charter School Grant, Connecticut has poured over $300 million into its emerging charter schools. Over the past decade, direct state support for charters has skyrocketed from $14 million a year in 2001 to $53 million this year.
State Support for Charter Schools by Fiscal Year (in millions):
FY 00-01 $14
FY 01-02 $15
FY 02-03 $16
FY 03-04 $16
FY 04-05 $20
FY 05-06 $22
FY 06-07 $30
FY 07-08 $35
FY 08-09 $41
FY 09-10 $48
FY 10-11 $53
In addition to the belief that charter schools were generating better academic results, support for the charter school model grew because the schools and their proponents (including Achievement First, a major charter school operator in New York and Connecticut) repeatedly told state leaders that charter schools were a vital piece in the ongoing effort to address the racial and ethnic segregation that plagues the Connecticut’s public school system.
However, what has gone unreported is that a review of the data reveals that Connecticut’s charter schools are even more racially and ethnically isolated than the districts the schools are recruiting from. In fact, faced with court rulings requiring Connecticut to confront its segregated schools systems, charter schools are taking Connecticut in exactly the wrong direction.
When the facts are examined, not only have charter schools failed in their promise to address segregation but as a result of the effective lobbying efforts of the charter schools, scarce public resources are now being used to undermine the state’s own policy goals on racial and ethnic isolation.
The data could not be clearer, Connecticut’s urban school systems are predominantly minority.
Bridgeport Public Schools:
40.1% of the students come from non-English speaking homes
Hartford Public Schools:
43.5% of the students come from non-English speaking homes
New Haven Public Schools:
28.9% of the students come from non-English speaking homes
Recognizing the reality of these extraordinary demographics, the state turned to charter schools and other alternative education models to create educational settings that were more diverse.
However, as noted, the State Department of Education’s School Profile Reports reveal that virtually all of Connecticut’s charter schools are providing an educational environment that is even more racially and ethnically isolated.
In Bridgeport, where 91.2% of the students are minority; the percentage of minority students in the city’s charter schools are actually higher than in the city as a whole.
School (Percent Minority)
Achievement First – Bridgeport Academy’s (98.7%)
The Bridge Academy (99.5%)
New Beginnings (98.3%)
Park City Prep (98.2%)
The same situation is true in Hartford where 93.3% of the students are minority but the population of minority students in the city’s charter schools is 100%
School (Percent Minority)
Achievement First – Harford (100%)
And in New Haven, where 87.7% of the students are minority only 1 out of the 4 area charter schools seem able to attract non-minority students.
School (Percent Minority)
Achievement First – Amistad (98.1%)
Achievement First – Elm City College Prep (99.0%)
Common Ground School (83.2%)
Highville Charter (98.3%)
When it comes to serving Latino students, the failure of Connecticut’s charter schools is even more appalling.
Although 47.3% of Bridgeport students are Latino, the percentage of Latino students in Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy is Charter Schools is 38.8% Latino, The Bridge Academy has a Latino population of 29.4% , New Beginnings Latino percent is 13.7% and Park City Prep’s Latino population is 31.1%
An even more stark situation exists in Hartford where 52.3% of the students are Latino, but only 10.7% of the students at Achievement First – Hartford are Latino while Jumoke Charter’s Latino population is only 3.2%
New Haven’s charter schools have done a bit better serving the Latino community, but the charter schools there are still falling short. With a Latino student population of 36.6% in New Haven’s public schools, Achievement First – Amistad has a Latino population of 31.5% , Achievement First – Elm City has 20.2% Latino students, the Common Ground School is 30.7% Latino and Highville Charter has a Latino Population of 7%.
Perhaps most disturbing of all is the fact that despite Connecticut’s urban areas having significant numbers of students coming from non-English speaking homes, charter schools have somehow managed to create learning environments in which virtually NONE OF THE STUDENTS who come from non-English speaking households end up in their schools.
As educators and policy makers know, one of the most significant challenges to educational achievement is language barriers particularly a problem when students take their homework (which is written in English) home to non-English speaking households. Greater parental engagement in their children’s education is hard enough, but when the students are learning in a language that is not spoken at home it makes it virtually impossible to generate significant parental involvement.
In Bridgeport 40% of the students go home to a non-English speaking home. That percentage increases to 44.7% in Hartford and in New Haven the percent of students coming from non-English speaking homes is 28.6%
In Connecticut, charter schools are required to ensure equal access to their schools. Efforts must be made to recruit students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds and admission tests can’t be used. In fact, entrance decisions must include a blind lottery system. So that said, compare the percentage of students from non-English speaking homes with the numbers the charter school have reported to the State Department of Education:
School (% students from non-English speaking homes)
Bridgeport Public Schools (40%)
Achievement First – Bridgeport Academy (0.6%)
The Bridge Academy (14.9%)
New Beginnings (0%)
Park City Prep (0%)
HartfordPublic Schools (44.7% )
Achievement First – Hartford (0%)
New HavenPublic Schools (28.6%)
Achievement First – Amistad (0%)
Achievement First – Elm City Prep (0%)
Common Ground School (4.6%)
Highville Charter (0%)
The data is certainly unsettling. If Connecticut’s publically funded charter schools are supposed to be equally accessible to all and up to 4 in 10 students from those areas come from non-English speaking households then it is pretty unbelievable and completely unconscionable that almost no charter school students come from non-English speaking households.
There is no question that the concept of charter schools is politically very attractive, but the data raises very serious questions about Connecticut’s charter schools and Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly would do well to call a “time out” when it comes to on-going support for these schools and determine how to proceed considering these schools are creating greater racial isolation while failing to service the breadth of our city’s ethnic communities.