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Yesterday, the Century Foundation and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council released a report touting the benefits of racial and socioeconomic diversity in charter schools. For a variety of reasons, charter schools are more likely to serve a high-poverty population than traditional public schools. The authors stress the need for this fact to change because, they claim, poor students fare better in low-poverty versus high-poverty schools. The report profiles seven high-performing charters that have tackled racial and socioeconomic integration in different ways. Diversifying charter schools is an attractive—and noble—idea, but one that creates a policy conundrum as feasible integration of schools often proves to be a prickly challenge. (Think about parents’ reactions to busing in Wake County, for example.)
A recent policy brief from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (which profiles many of the same schools as the Century Foundation report) offers a smart alternative. NAPCS recognizes the value in fostering high-performing charters that serve either homogenous or socioeconomically diverse communities—and the value of letting parents choose to send their child to one or the other. Both reports make recommendations for policy changes that will be more hospitable to diverse charters. NAPCS urges the federal government to loosen restrictions on charters’ admissions practices—to permit weighted lotteries (which allow for a more diverse or targeted student body). The Century Foundation recommends that states provide incentives to integrated charters akin to those created for high-poverty charters. Integrating charters is a touchy subject; these reports offer valuable perspective—and some smart ideas—on how to navigate these turbid waters.
Richard D. Kahlenberg and Halley Potter, Diverse Charter Schools: Can Racial and Socioeconomic Integration Promote Better Outcomes for Students? (Washington, D.C.: The Century Foundation and The Poverty & Race Research Action Council, May 2012).
Nora Kern, Renita Thukral, and Todd Ziebarth, A Mission to Serve: How Public Charter Schools Are Designed to Meet the Diverse Demands of Our Communities (Washington, D.C.: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, May 2012).