Little diversity in Indy charter schools

The Hechinger Report and NBC News collaborated over the weekend for some solid reporting on racial segregation in charter schools. They focused on Lake Oconee Academy, a Georgia charter school where 73 percent of students are white while 68 percent of students in surrounding public schools are black.

Their stories identified 115 charter schools that they deemed racially segregated – much more heavily white than surrounding public schools. Texas and Michigan were home to the most charter schools where African-American and Hispanic students were dramatically underrepresented.

Hechinger and NBC defined a charter school as “segregated” if its share of white students was 20 percentage points higher than the whitest nearby public school. They also found at least 747 charter schools that enrolled a higher percentage of white students than any public school in the same district.

I wondered if Indianapolis would have charter schools on the list. It didn’t, but it might have if reporters had set their criteria a bit differently.

In Indianapolis, there are several charter schools with a higher percentage of white students than in most schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools district. But the schools with the greatest concentration of white students are not charter schools but IPS magnet schools – in particular, two Center for Inquiry schools where many white, affluent parents choose to send their children.

The striking thing about Indianapolis charter schools is that almost none are what you would call racially diverse or balanced. A majority are overwhelmingly African-American, what critics have called apartheid schools. At more than half of the charter schools, fewer than 5 percent of students are white.

But at four charter schools – Hope, Irvington, Herron and Damar – over 60 percent of students are white. This in an IPS district where only one in five students are white.

The usual explanation for racial segregation in urban public schools is that it reflects segregation in neighborhoods, and certainly there’s some truth to that. In Indianapolis there was a great deal of white flight, with white families over the years leaving IPS and Indianapolis for suburban countries.

In theory, neighborhood segregation shouldn’t be much of a factor for charter schools, which are open to all families within the district and even from outside the district. Charter advocates often argue that students’ school options shouldn’t be limited by their zip code.

But in Indianapolis, so-called schools of choice – charter schools and certain IPS magnet schools — appear to be more racially segregated than neighborhood schools. In this city, at least, school choice appears to be associated with school segregation.

Overall, in Indianapolis Public Schools, 48 percent of students are African-American, 28 percent are Hispanic and 21 percent are white. In Indianapolis charter schools, 59 percent are African-American, 17 percent are Hispanic and 18 percent are white. You can download Excel files here with Indiana Department of Education data for IPS schools and Indianapolis charter schools.

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3 thoughts on “Little diversity in Indy charter schools

  1. This discussion overlooks a critical distinction. Racial segregation in public schools is involuntary; assignments depend, generally, on where families reside. Segregation in charter or magnet schools is voluntary; assignments depend, generally, on what parents desire for their children. (This assumes unbiased admissions procedures.). Is that a morally important distinction? Is it an educationally important one? I think a case can be made for the affirmative on both counts.

    • Thanks, Les. I’d agree a case could be made. One could also argue that people choose where to live, so segregation by school attendance zone area is voluntary, too. (It’s a weak argument, but it could be made). And I think the Southern resistance to Brown v. Board of Education included the contention that most people would choose for their kids to attend school with “their own kind.” It still seems questionable to me to have publicly funded schools in one city that are so differentiated by race, ethnicity and social class. If “what parents desire for their children” is that they not be around children of another race, is that something that public policy should accommodate? Is there one type of education that’s best for white children and another that’s best for black children? Those ideas seem problematic to me.

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