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Taking the "right" out of civil rights

Masquerading as a champion for equity, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA semi-regularly issues forth condemnations and reports outlining how little we’ve achieved as a nation in civil rights. Their glass is always half empty, and their data normally, well, wrong.  When it comes to education, they criticize any programs that give the poor and people of color power, as if only a highly regulated government can really ensure our civil rights are respected.  But more than 30 years of school system failures to do just that still hasn’t convinced them they are wrong. Instead of embracing the kinds of reforms that do indeed restore justice to those lacking, they find ways to use data to say otherwise.

Their most recent report says charter schools in most states are highly segregated and of course, it is suggested, are an affront to civil rights. The “project” neither collects its own data for this, instead relying on federally flawed data, or does it actually look at the communities where charters live for a glimpse of what service these schools are providing.

This “project,” in fact, uses the language of civil rights to attack the very fruits of civil rights activists’ labor:  It claims charter schools are “segregationist” because the predominant enrollment at these institutions is composed of minority children.  However, the “project” misses the definition of segregation- which is enforced separation of different racial groups in a country. The last time I checked, no one was forced, or assigned to a charter school- in fact all operate through open enrollment (i.e. choice) and, if necessary, random lotteries- and consequently are the antithesis of “segregationist” institutions.  Cut the malarkey UCLA, you’re fooling no one.

I often wonder who exactly it is at these prestigious-sounding centers that have actually been recently engaged in civil rights.  Do they hang with Los Angeles’ Rev. Tulloss, who founded Parent Revolution and is trying to “trigger” a parent takeover of failing urban schools because there are not enough choices and charters to help the children and families he ministers to daily? Does the Civil Rights Project at UCLA ever visit with the families at Houston’s Yes Prep, whose largely low-income students are excelling as if they were in hoity-toity prep schools? Alas, if UCLA had its way, those kids would be in a forced attendance zone, taking what was given to them, no matter what the outcome, and yes, all in the name of civil rights.

Well, this would bother us more than a small rant if we thought there was much truth to their assertions. But thankfully, CER has been collecting real data on charter school enrollment for more than a decade and assessing how the schools deliver education to those whose choices led them to attend.

Indeed, we find that charters are doing precisely what they set out to do — providing a quality education for millions of students who otherwise would not have one.  Across the US, charters educate students who are largely underserved in the public school environment. The majority of charter school students are minority (52 percent), at-risk (50 percent), or low-income (54 percent). These percentages have remained almost identical for the last three years, showing that charters continually serve a large at-risk student population and are not taking the top students.

In addition to students in charter schools being a majority at-risk population, 40 percent or more of most charter schools in the country serve student populations that are over 60 percent minority, at-risk, or low-income .  But yes many charter schools in cities such as Durham,NC, Washington, DC, Boston, MA, or Detroit, MI, serve student populations that are 100 percent at-risk, low-income and/or minority. That’s because those areas are largely minority, and because that is who is most ill-served by a bad education and thus more likely to find a better place, once one exists.

Most charter schools mirror the population of their district. And contrary to what even charter proponents have found themselves convinced to say lately, most charters ARE succeeding.

They succeed academically according to analyses of state and local test scores; they succeed with retention, which is always higher; they succeed with more order, more discipline and thus less violence; they succeed by reengaging parents. When they do not succeed, they close, which occurs every month, since charters were begun, after giving them time to succeed. (More later on why conventional wisdom suggests otherwise these days).

The bottom line for anyone in or around the charter school arena is this — “charter schools” as a reform method is still not widely embraced by the establishment. Neither academia, teachers organizations or popular politicians embrace the notion fully or as much as they are given credit for doing. We see this daily, from local zoning hearings to state houses. To support a great charter school is not to support the policy that is needed to ensure it exists. To appreciate the benefit of all charter schools one must actually understand what is happening community by community and not make judgments in a fly-over of data that may or may not be correctly portrayed.

It’s essential charter people start not only taking on the bad data and research that gives rise to incorrect conclusions, but start looking at the good data themselves.  Doing otherwise will be fatal for this reform (precisely the intention of groups like “the project.”)

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