By the numbers

Colorado’s charter schools: more diverse, more segregated

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Freshmen at DSST Cole High School in Dexter Korto's morning advisory class look to the back of the class where English standards are posted.

A state report released this month showed that for the first time, Colorado’s charter schools educated a larger proportion of racial and ethnic minorities than district-run schools.

The report found that 47 percent of students enrolled at a Colorado charter identify as a racial or ethnic minority. That’s two percentage points higher than at district-run schools:

The findings raise a question: If the charter school population is more diverse, are charter schools more integrated?

The answer, based on school-level data analyzed by Chalkbeat: No.

Of the state’s 226 charters, 38 percent would be considered integrated by the federal government’s definition. That means the school’s minority population is between 25 and 75 percent. At the same time, 50 percent of district-run schools are integrated:

School segregation has received renewed attention in recent years as communities reflect on their legacies and consider how far they have come — or in some cases, not come.

Last year, Denver Public Schools found itself under scrutiny for the current racial makeup of its schools on the 20th anniversary of the end of court-ordered busing.

Research has long suggested that students of all races benefit socially, cognitively and academically at integrated schools.

However, because district-run schools traditionally serve segregated neighborhoods, integration hasn’t come easily.

One of charter schools’ selling points has been that they provide students and families, regardless of ZIP code, alternatives to their neighborhood schools. Some believe charters can promote integration when neighborhood boundaries don’t exist. Others argue charters have led to more segregation.

A lack of transportation is one important barrier to integrated charter schools. Unlike most district-run schools, charters usually don’t provide busing.

The mission of some charter schools is another factor. Some of the most segregated schools in Colorado are run by the Denver-based STRIVE charter network. But STRIVE didn’t set out to create segregated schools; it sought to open in some of Denver’s poorest neighborhoods — neighborhoods that are heavily Latino.

Here are other takeaways from Chalkbeat’s analysis:

In 11 Colorado charter schools, more than 90 percent of the students are white:

Meanwhile, there are 46 charter schools — almost all in Denver — at which more than 90 percent of students are Latino or black:

Ninety-eight charter schools educate more minority students than the average, while 128 charter schools serve fewer students of color than the average.

Only one charter school, Southwest Open in Cortez, exactly mirrors the state’s charter school racial split: 53 percent of its students are white, 47 percent are minorities. Others that are on either side of the split: The Global Village Academy in Douglas County, Twin Peaks Charter Academy in Longmont and Union Colony Preparatory in Greeley.

back to court

Nashville appeals judge’s order to share student information with state charters

The battle over student contact information will continue between Tennessee’s charter schools and its second largest school district.

Attorneys for Metro Nashville Public Schools on Friday appealed Chancellor Bill Young’s order to provide state-run charter schools with the names, phone numbers, and addresses of students.

The appeal came on the same day that Young originally set for Nashville’s district to comply with a new state law requiring sharing such information if charter operators request it. But a recent court extension assured Nashville leaders that they could exhaust the appeals process first.

The disagreement — which also touches on student privacy, school choice, and enrollment — has vexed state officials and lawmakers as they’ve sought to mitigate skirmishes between the state’s growing charter sector and its two largest districts, in Nashville and Memphis. Last month, Gov. Bill Haslam brought all parties to the table to seek a solution outside the courts. The State Department of Education was tasked with developing a way forward, but has not yet submitted a proposal.

While the state has urged local districts to comply with the year-old charter law, Nashville leaders argue it runs afoul of a federal law that gives districts discretion over who gets student contact information. For instance, school systems routinely share such information with companies that sell yearbooks and class rings.

The tussle has implications for the state’s largest school system, Shelby County Schools, in Memphis. Leaders there also have refused to hand over the information to charters in the state’s Achievement School District, which seeks to turn around Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

Parents are divided on the issue. Some say the information exchange is an invasion of privacy, including when a Nashville charter school sent a barrage of text messages to parents, resulting in a $2.2 million settlement last year. Others say allowing charters to contact prospective students allows them to better explore their options.

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”