Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity Releases Report on Charter School Segregation and Performance

February 9, 2017

A new report from the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School describes how charter schools are worsening segregation and failing to achieve consistent academic improvement. In an important new research finding, the report suggests that moderate or even nominal attempts to reduce school segregation would produce academic gains comparable to—or greater than—those observed in the most highly lauded class of charter schools.

The report, titled “Segregation and Performance,” is the first installment in a larger initiative called the Minnesota School Choice Project, which will provide an expansive look at charter education in the Twin Cities.

Previous research from the Institute has shown that Twin Cities charter schools suffer from a high degree of racial and economic segregation, while producing mediocre academic performance. The new report demonstrates that both trends continue unabated: of the 50 most segregated schools in the region, 45 are charters. After controlling for demographic factors, academic proficiency in charter schools tends to be slightly lower than in traditional public schools.

But this new analysis also singles out a large group of charter schools for additional scrutiny. In this subset of schools, low-income children of color are almost completely isolated in homogeneous environments. The report dubs these schools “poverty academies,” noting that they have been intentionally created by charter school components as an alternative to racial and economic integration. In poverty academies, economic and racial concentration have been adopted as educational strategies, theoretically because they provide an avenue to target “compensatory” education toward historically disadvantaged groups.

However, analysis in the report suggests that the old-fashioned approach of integration would better serve disadvantaged groups than poverty academies. Data shows that students from historically disadvantaged groups perform better in schools that achieve even low or moderate levels of integration. For example, for some ages and groups, even schools that remain above 80 percent low-income or nonwhite appear to offer better academic opportunity than poverty academies.

The new report shows that integration remains indispensable to anyone wishing to close achievement gaps or reduce inequality in education.

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