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Do Charter Schools Promote Segregation?

Two US organisations are challenging the charter school system, with accusations that it promotes segregation and inequality:

“Charter schools are often promoted as a tool to address educational inequities, but a potential precedent-setting legal case launched earlier this month says the opposite. In filings with the U.S. Department of Education, two Delaware nonprofit groups allege that some of the state’s publicly funded, privately managed schools are actively resegregating the education system — and in a way that violates federal civil rights law.

The complaint, by the Delaware branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Community Legal Aid Society, cites data showing that more than three-quarters of Delaware’s charter schools are “racially identifiable” — a term that describes schools whose demographics are substantially different from the surrounding community.

According to the complaint, “High-performing charter schools are almost entirely racially identifiable as white” while “low-income students and students with disabilities are disproportionately relegated to failing charter schools and charter schools that are racially identifiable as African-American or Hispanic….””

Source: Charter schools’ ugly separate-but-unequal reality

charter schools dividing communities since1991300Sixty years after the historic Brown v. Topeka Board of Education banned segregated supposedly separate-but-equal schooling, it seems there is still some way to go to achieve equity in education.


QPEC Release: 60th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education:  One of the landmark civil rights cases of our time

segregation brown v board of education

Saturday 17 May marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark civil rights case, Brown v Board of Education, the US Supreme Court’s 1954 decision that prohibited Southern states from segregating schools by race.

In a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court annihilated the “separate but equal” doctrine previously sanctioned by the Supreme Court in 1896 that permitted states and school districts to designate some schools “whites only” and others “Negroes only”.

The decision fuelled a wave of freedom rides, sit-ins, voter registration efforts and many other actions leading ultimately to major civil rights legislation through the late 1950s and 1960s.

The plaintiffs’ chief attorney, Thurgood Marshall, later became the first African-American justice appointed to the Supreme Court, in 1967.   He served on the Court for 24 years in a fruitless struggle to prevent the perpetuation of school segregation.

So, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the decision, has the promise of Brown v Board of Education been met?

The unequivocal answer is No.

  • Initial school integration gains following Brown stalled and black children are more racially and socio-economically isolated today than they were in the late 1960s.
  • The academic achievement of African Americans has improved dramatically in recent decades, but whites’ has as well, so racial achievement gaps remain large.
  • Inequalities in resources between schools has reduced but resource equality is insufficient; disadvantaged students require much greater resources than middle-class white students to prepare for success in school.
  • Schools remain segregated today because neighbourhoods in which they are located are segregated.

As we consider the current wave of “education reform” ideas that is now unfolding in New Zealand, one of the most controversial is charter schools.

One unfortunate finding, that is not widely discussed, is the observation that charter schools in the USA are more segregated than traditional public schools, according to a 2010 report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Report found that seventy percent of black charter school students across the USA attended “racially isolated” schools, twice as many as the share in traditional public schools.

A “racially isolated” school is where more than 90% of the students are from disadvantaged minority groups.

It is important to reflect back on the finding in Brown v Board of Education that “separate education facilities are inherently unequal”.

Proponents of charter schools in the USA believe they are giving opportunities to low-income and minority students that they otherwise would not have had.

But we need to be very clear that both the PISA international assessments and the work of the OECD on teacher quality underline very strongly that the socio-economic status of students and schools explain the vast majority of the variation in student performance.

That finding alone is certainly not a strong recommendation for policies that further increase the segregation of schools.

It is not that governments have an agenda to increase segregation.  But it is important that government does not exacerbate the problem of segregation by ignoring the unintended consequences of its policies.

New Zealand has a proud record of quality public education for all.  We must guard against any policy initiative that has the potential to fragment and weaken our education system.

– QPEC (Quality Public Education Coalition)


Note: this release is based mainly on releases in the USA written by Richard Rothstein, of the Economic Policy Institute, and Iris C Rotberg, of George Washington University.

separate not equal


On those mystical children with packed lunches (Food in schools)

I read an interesting piece today about the perils of assuming kids in higher decile schools are being fed.

It resonated with me and gave me reason to ponder my own experiences and reflect on what opting into programmes can mean for those kids on the receiving end of the help.

rich kid poor kidAs a teenager in the UK, I went to a school that had an intake that was maybe two thirds middle class and one third working class. The former bused down to the school – we bused up.

There were (and are) no deciles in UK schools, but if were to hazard a guess I would say it would have been a decile 7-8 school.

Lunch time was a lesson in class and wealth.

The UK school lunches programme was subsidised so there was a small charge for the fabulous hot meals provided – one my parents could pay and were happy to do so. And if your family didn’t earn enough, you got a ticket to say you were entitled to FREE MEALS.

It was great!

There was food for all, in every school, and it was hearty and healthy.  No burgers and chips back then, it was all Shepherds’ Pie and peas gfollowed by sponge and custard, and a second helping if you were lucky.

But it did have a down side that only really struck me again today after reading Coley’s article.

Them and Us

At lunch time, it was totally clear to everyone who was who in the poverty pecking order; I remember my best friend’s true mortification every day as she handed her free meals lunch ticket over in front of the whole waiting queue and all of the seated kids in order to get her meal.

They could not have embarrassed her more, short of stamping her on the forehead with POOR.

The Mystical Lunch Boxes

And even then it had other complications.  Not everyone took advantage of school meals.  I remember those children that brought packed lunches.  Cold food all packaged nicely in a lunch box and brought in each day.  I had no idea why they had those.  Why would you have cold food when hot food was on offer?  It was a mystery to me, completely, but I did recognise that it was those kids that bused down that brought packed lunches, not us that bused up.    And we sat in separate spaces – hot meals in one area, lunch boxes in another.

The divide was very clear.

So, I knew I was poorish because “the posh kids” ate cold food from a box.  But I knew I wasn’t as poor as the ticket kids.  They were very poor – the ticket told us that.

In short, at lunch times, my place in society’s pecking order was laid bare.

How it feels to be ‘othered’

As Coley Tangerina  says “Let me tell you something about being part of a poor minority in a wealthy private or “well zoned” public school – if your classmates can’t tell your poor because of the weird shit you wear to school, they will tell when you’re asking for food in the mornings.”

Despite the passing of time and the change in my circumstances, I can feel my cheeks reddening even now remembering how I felt as I  realised that the kids from my area were different to those that bused down.  That I was different.

Was it even worse to be in the top stream with the kids with the proper uniforms?  None of them wore uniforms that were never quite the right shades of blue, bought from the market or made by mum.    I don’t know if it was worse than handing your food chit over every day, but it was certainly embarrassing enough to put me off uniforms for life.

These small thing tell a child that they are different to their classmates,  and that those differences are beyond their control.

This is what it is like when a child is in a school where only some kids opt into the food programmes.  Them and us.

What a rotten way for any child to feel.

There’s no easy answer, but the discussion surely cannot be over with this Weetbix opt-in half-cocked solution, can it?


Further reading:

Do it properly: Extend free food at school by Colin Espiner

Feed the Kids  A Fact Sheet on the Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill

Mana party ridicules govt food in schools policy – Radio NZ

Follow Save Our Schools NZ on

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