Leaving Out Connecticut’s Latinos and others whose primary language is not English…
It may be the Rule of Unintended Consequences, but unintended Segregation is still Segregation:
Few, if any, topics that I’ve written about have generated as many comments or strong feelings than the columns about charter schools. Connecticut’s charter schools are blessed with parents and advocates who truly believe in the charter school model and have experienced firsthand the direct benefits that their children received at their charter school.
In all my previous commentaries I have failed to successfully differentiate between the good that charter schools are doing for the children and families they serve versus the underlying public policy challenges we face as we try to ensure every child has access to a quality education and receives the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in this increasingly complex world.
Following each column, some very angry and frustrated parents write to make it clear that not only did their children benefit from charter schools but that my comments are an assault on the very essence of the educational model charter schools provide.
The following column is the third in a series of some of the key public policy issues that our elected officials must address as they grapple with the allocation of scarce resources. My comments are not intended to be an attack on the quality of charter schools or the people who utilize them. Quite frankly I think charter schools appear to be a viable model as we try to find ways to close the terrible achievement gap that is destroying large segments of our society.
What I am addressing are two key public policy issues.
Charter schools regularly claim that they succeed where public schools don’t. In addition, in the proposal called “money follow the child”, charter schools are saying that regardless of whether government expands funding for primary and secondary education in Connecticut, if a child moves from the public school system to a charter school all of the money allocated to “pay” for that student should move as well.
That is what the discussion is about.
It is not about whether charter schools are good or that charter schools are successfully educating their students.
The debate is about the legal and moral obligation government has when it comes to ensuring that all children have access to a quality education.
While reasonable people may differ about what should be done, the facts are not in dispute. Connecticut’s urban charter is more racially isolated that the communities in which they exist. The student bodies in these urban charter schools are significantly “less poor” (as measured by the number of students that qualify for free or reduced lunches) and these charter schools serve a significantly lower percentage of ELL students (students who are not English language proficient).
Charter schools may in fact provide students with “better educational outcome “However, the increased racial isolation means these schools (like many of our urban schools) are unconstitutionally racially isolated. And second, since poverty and English Language proficiency are two main reasons students don’t do as well on the standardized tests, charter schools will inherently do better if when they are serving less poor and fewer non-English speaking students.
That does not mean charter schools should be closed, but it does mean that policy makers have a moral and legal responsibility to consider those factors as they modify the way Connecticut schools are funded.
The last variable I’ll use to showcase this issue is the huge discrepancy when it comes to students going home to households in which English is not the primary language. There are poor parents who get actively involved in their children’s education just as there are non-English speaking parents who provide the necessary parental involvement to ensure students do a better job.
That said, both poverty and language proficiency serve as barriers for many families.
In Hartford a total of 43% of the public school students go home to households in which the primary home language is not English. In fact, Hartford school students go home to at least 70 different home languages.
At the same time, Achievement First’sHarford Academyhas only 4.8% of its students going home to non-English speaking households and in their case there are 4 different home languages. And at the other major charter school,Jumoke Academy, there are no students who go home to non-English speaking households. English is the only language home language that Jumoke Academy teachers need to deal with.
In New Haven, 27.9% of the school system’s students come from homes where English is not the primary language (with a total of 61 different languages). Amistad Academy has only 11.8% of its students going home to non-English households (with a total of 3 different languages). In Achievement First’s other New Haven charter school, Elm City College Preparatory, even fewer, 8.8% of students return to non-English speaking homes (3 languages)
And in Bridgeport, 40.4% of the students come from homes where English is not the primary language (There are a total of 73 different home languages in Bridgeport).
By comparison, Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy has 6.3% of its students from non-English speaking households (2 languages), The Bridge Academy has 16.7% of its students from non-English speaking homes (6 languages) and Park City Preparatory has only 2.5% of its students going home to households whose primary language in not English (with a total of 2 different languages)
It is true that the evidence is that Connecticut Mastery Test scores are marginally higher in charter schools than in the nearby traditional public school systems.
And to the extent that it is the teaching that explains that difference, the charter schools deserve credit for that success.
Yet at the same time, the evidence also suggests that charter school teaching methods may not fully explain those results.
Charter schools rationalize these issues by beginning and ending with the argument that they have “open lottery systems” that provides every child who wants to attend an equal opportunity to do so.
Open lottery systems are important but an open lottery system does not guarantee that the study body is representative of the entire community.
Charter schools have targeted marketing programs that some parents may find more persuasive than others.
And intentional or note, schools maybe be seen as more welcoming or more accessible to some than to others.
Furthermore, since the “burden” to engage in the charter school lottery system is primarily on the backs of parents, the process obviously self-selects parents that are more attentive and active in the education of their children and have an easier time understanding and navigating through the steps necessary to get their children into the schools lottery and then into the school.
Since poverty and language barriers are obviously factors as to who approaches the lottery process and who does not, it is not surprising that the “open enrollment process” ends up with fewer poor students, fewer non-English language students and fewer students who go home to households in which English is not the primary language.
The net result is that students who generally have higher success rates will end up in the charter school while those who face more barriers are left in traditional schools.
The situation is then exacerbated if the official funding policy is to shift dollars to the kids who are statistically more likely to have better outcomes and reduce the resources to those who actually need the greater supports.
Although unintended, the outcome is that the system promotes “De facto racial discrimination” which in turn creates “De facto racial segregation”.
If the law actually discriminates it’s called “De Jur” discrimination. Much of the “De Jur” discrimination was outlawed in the United States by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other related legislation.
The problem in Connecticut is really not due to laws that force segregation but traditions, systems and processes (along with housing, transportation and political boundaries) that end up segregating our population.
Even though these results are not a result of a specific law and may not even be intended, they are still creating segregation and discrimination which is not only immoral but unconstitutional and illegal.