The Charter School Catch-22

April 2010

When charter schools first emerged nearly two decades ago, critics claimed they would promote segregation by serving privileged white students whose families take advantage of choice. But state laws, philanthropists, and charter school founders targeted these new schools to serve disadvantaged students in urban districts.

Critics then tried to show that charter schools serve fewer poor and minority students than neighboring public schools. In fact, enrollment variations by neighborhood appear to be no differently distributed in charter schools than in district-run schools. Now, critics claim charter schools worsen segregation by serving too high a proportion of minority students, essentially making the charter movement a civil rights failure for failing to achieve racially mixed schools.

Authors Hill and Lake argue that there is a more important civil rights issue: ensuring good schools and opportunities for high school, college, and beyond for poor and minority students. As charter schools further develop and succeed, they will likely attract a more diverse population of students. In the meantime, their success in serving the most disadvantaged students should be cause for praise, not criticism.

This article is published in the Journal of School Choice, Volume 4, Issue 2, April 2010, pages 232-235.