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The Voice of the Black Community

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Two school sectors, separate and unequal in Mecklenburg County
Study: Charters spread racial segregation
Published Saturday, February 17, 2018 12:04 pm
by Herbert L. White

Suburban charter schools are hampering public school desegregation efforts in Mecklenburg County, according to a study.

The survey “Charters as a Driver of Resegregation,” commissioned by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA with researchers from UNC Charlotte, found that the growing roster of charter schools, which are often segregated by race, leaves Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools more segregated.

“Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were once the nation's bellwether for successful desegregation. Today, the district exemplifies how charter schools can impede districts' efforts to resist re-segregation,” said Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, UNC Charlotte’s Chancellor’s Professor and professor of sociology, public policy and women’s and gender studies. “This research has important implications not only for schools and communities in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region but for the national debate over the growth and role of charter schools in our nation’s education system.”

The CMS study by UNCC researchers Jennifer Ayscue, Amy Hawn Nelson, Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, Jason Giersch and Martha Cecilia Bottia, describes how charter schools directly and indirectly contribute to re-segregation in traditional public schools. The study illustrates how charters, which are funded in part by the state, undercuts school district efforts to  break up high concentrations of poverty through pupil assignment.

“Prior research has consistently demonstrated that charters tend to be more segregated than traditional public schools,” said Ayscue, a researcher with UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. “This study of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is important because it describes how charters also drive segregation in traditional public schools.”

The study revealed:

• White or Asian middle-class, academically proficient students who leave for charters make socioeconomic and racial desegregation more difficult for public schools. Their departure leaves fewer middle class white and Asian students in traditional public schools, which leaves more segregated public and charter schools.

• The growth of charters is a bargaining chip for politically active suburban parents who threatened to bolt CMS if assignment boundaries maintain their current neighborhood school assignments. As a result, school district leaders are less willing to act decisively on pupil assignments.

In 2016, CMS was the most racially segregated urban school system in North Carolina. While national discourse presents charter schools as an alternative to underperforming schools in the inner city, the majority of Mecklenburg charters are in the suburbs and enroll academically proficient, middle-class white and Asian students.

CMS adopted a new student assignment plan in 2017 to break up high concentrations of poverty, but it affects 5 percent of the district’s students and only modestly shifts concentrations of poverty. As a result, most of the public schools are status quo with upper income students enrolled at neighborhood schools in affluent areas and disadvantaged students on lower-income campuses.

“Charter schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg are not only segregated, but they fuel political opposition to reducing unequal education in racially and economically segregated schools,” said Gary Orfield, co-director of the UCLA Civil Rights Project. “I believe many charter school leaders care deeply about and are committed to high quality education, but without strategies and measures to increase diversity, charter schools contribute to school re-segregation in Charlotte, North Carolina, and as our research shows, in communities across the country.”

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