Addressing Charter Enrollment Disparities
This is from an article about charter schools in Portland, Ore.:
School board members in Portland worry that a large influx of charters could foster a two-tiered public school system, pitting small neighborhood schools with more disadvantaged and minority students against charter schools that typically attract more middle-income and affluent white students.
I haven’t seen demographic data for Portland’s charter schools, but I was surprised by this assertion because most charter students nationwide are not white and affluent.
Reading through the rest of the article, I can imagine why the pattern would be reversed in Portland. Portland’s public school district turns down charter application right and left — a couple have opened, despite the district’s disapproval, after appealing to the state.
Of the charters that made it through the application process, several center around trendy hands-on learning philosophies. That’s fine, but such schools appeal disproportionately to well-off parents. Disadvantaged families generally prefer structured academics and extra classroom time, not free exploration. Those aspects of KIPP charter schools have attracted inner-city minority students wherever they open, but there isn’t a single KIPP school in the entire state of Oregon!
Increasing charter school diversity is an admirable goal. To achieve it, Portland will have to allow a wider variety of charter schools to compete. It wouldn’t hurt to advertise charters to minorities, either. Look at these statements from the opening of the article:
Southwest Charter School sits squarely in the center of the city, just steps from the Willamette River, off a busy street in a commercial district, with almost 200 kids enrolled. But most people don’t know the public school exists.
That’s no accident.
Portland Public Schools doesn’t mention Southwest Charter in its literature or on its Web site.
Is it any surprise that disadvantaged students are left out of schools that are kept under wraps? I don’t know whether it’s appropriate to feature charters on the district website, but there are other ways to spread the word so charters’ existence will no longer be a secret.