Charter schools tend to be less diverse than traditional public schools, according to a new report, and federal and state officials should consider rules that give charter schools more flexibility in choosing students.
As schools of choice, charters could use diversity to improve student education, according to a report from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) and The Century Foundation. But federal law requires charter schools give every applicant the same chance at enrolling — typically through a lottery.
That’s a problem, the authors write, because charter schools traditionally are started to provide an alternative to failing schools in low-income and minority communities. Studies show a lack of diversity can be detrimental to kids, they argue.
Charters that give high-needs students a diverse educational setting should be a priority because, according to the report:
- Civic, Social, and Cognitive Benefits for All Students. Integration fosters tolerant adults and good citizens. Students develop higher-level critical thinking and cognitive skills. Students in economically mixed schools have access to valuable networks help them find jobs.
- Resources for Improving Academic Performance. Integrated charter schools hold particular promise for students currently in low-performing schools. Numerous studies have shown that low-income students generally perform better in middle-class schools
- A Chance to Experiment and Broaden the Base. Socioeconomically and racially diverse charter schools would be challenged with addressing the needs of diverse groups of students under a single roof. They would also be opened up to the support of middle-class suburban parents.
A StateImpact Florida/Miami Herald investigation found a lack of diversity in Florida’s charter schools when it comes to kids with severe disabilities. Further analysis found that charters are out of reach for many kids. More than a third of Florida’s 67 counties had no charter schools during the 2010–2011 school year.
The report highlights seven academically successful charter schools that have integrated students from different racial and economic backgrounds. Their efforts reveal a variety of approaches that made integration work for them:
- Intentional Location. Some charter schools increased their chances of a diverse student population by locating in an area accessible to parents of different incomes and races.
- Targeted Student Recruitment and Weighted Admissions. Most of the schools identified in the study use recruitment strategically, targeting underrepresented populations. They also use weighted lotteries based on family income or geography to ensure diverse enrollment.
- Thoughtful Pedagogies and Academic Success. The schools employ a variety of educational approaches, showing that diverse schools are not limited to one educational model. Common among them is a focus on academic quality.
- School Cultures That Embrace Diversity. The charters instituted community programs, classroom practices, and staff training to make sure all students have equal opportunities and all backgrounds are respected.
The report suggests changes in federal, state and local policy are needed to encourage diversity in charters, increase their funding, and create incentives for integration. It says foundations should also support charters “that serve low-income children by educating them in socioeconomically and racially integrated student bodies.”