The University of Minnesota Law School's Institute on Race and Poverty has released a report that reveals very troubling data concerning the success rates of charter schools in the Twin Cities metro area.
Entitled "Failed Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in the Twin Cities," the new study is one of very few to evaluate the academic performance of charter schools and their competitive impact on traditional public school systems within the context of racial and economic segregation.
The state of Minnesota has a long track record when it comes to charter school systems, and educational reformers should take note of the report's findings, explains Myron Orfield, director of the Institute on Race and Poverty. "Before they rush into expanding the charter sector in their states, they should take a closer look at the Twin Cities experience," he said. "Rather than being a solution to the educational problems faced by low-income students and students of color, charter schools are deepening these problems."
The study shows that although some charter schools perform well on standardized tests, most charter schools offer low-income parents and parents of color an inferior choice -- a choice between low-performing traditional public schools and charter schools that perform even worse.
Analysis of proficiency rates in charter elementary schools finds lower proficiency scores in both reading and math, compared to students who attended comparable traditional public schools. For reading proficiency, the average difference is nearly 9 percentage points; for math, nearly 10 percentage points.
The institute's report finds that the problems are intensified by the charter system's segregated nature, both racially and economically.
"The average poverty rate in segregated schools in the Twin Cities metro is 81 percent, compared to 14 percent in predominantly white schools," said Baris Gumas-Dawes, a Research Fellow at the Institute and one of the study's authors. "Research shows that high-poverty schools are associated with a wide range of negative educational and life outcomes. Low test scores is only one of these negative outcomes. Racially-segregated schools with high student poverty rates lead to high dropout rates, low college attendance rates, low earnings later in life and greater risk of being poor as adults."
The study also finds that charter school competition has deepened segregation within traditional public school systems: Some school districts have responded to the charter competition by sponsoring racially segregated and in some cases "ethno-centric" charter schools of their own, or by initiating "ethno-centric" programs within traditional public schools or by promoting "ethno-centric" magnet schools in their own districts.
However, "ethno-centric" schools have increased racial and economic segregation to the detriment of students, the Institute's study concludes: "Overall, charter school competition in ethnic niches has been particularly detrimental for students of color and low-income students because this type of competition intensifies racial and economic segregation in metro schools and exiles these students to low-performing schools."