Conversations About Charters and School Segregation Need More Nuance, Ed Leader Says

I happened across a thoughtful article, “Concerns Over Charters and School Segregation Are Misplaced,” by Brandie Burris Gallagher, policy director of EdAllies, an organization in Minnesota that works to make sure “that every young Minnesotan has access to a rigorous and engaging education.” The organization prioritizes the needs of underserved students.

School segregation is as old as America, yet some seem to place particular blame on charter schools. In this piece, Burris Gallagher points our three cogent points:

  1. The voices of parents of color need to be asked why they’re choosing charter schools.
  2. Opportunities in district schools need to be improved for students of color.
  3. Charter quality needs to be improved as well.

Here’s an excerpt from her important piece.

An Associated Press article over the weekend and a Minnesota Public Radio segment this morning revealed how often conversations about charter schools lack nuance (not to mention voices of charter parents). These pieces point to charter schools as a driver of school segregation, and imply that closing down these schools would lead to more integration and better student outcomes. This implication is as oversimplified as it is unhelpful—and also not supported by the evidence. We need to re-set the conversation, be honest about the realities facing students of color in both district and charter schools, and work towards real solutions to provide these students with the great education they deserve.

Integration is important, but so are other factors.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried introducing nuance in conversations about school choice, only to be asked, “Wait! You don’t think integration is important?” Of course integration is important, but in my own experience and conversations with Minnesota parents and students, I’ve found that most people of color don’t usually see it as an end in itself.

For example, as a black woman, although I value integration, other factors will be more important as I pick a school for my child. For example, how are her would-be black peers doing academically? Are there teachers on staff who look like her? Does the school offer programs and curriculum that will play to her strengths and affirm her identity? Of course, for some families, including some families of color, an integrated setting is at the top of the list. But this simply isn’t true for all parents, especially for those who have had negative, even traumatic experiences in their more “integrated” district schools.

I recently spoke with a Somali parent thrilled to enroll her children at her neighborhood charter school. Among other reasons, she was overjoyed that her school scheduled end-of-year celebrations (along with the cookies, cakes, and sweets) to avoid conflicting with Ramadan. This relatively small example of the school’s willingness to respond to her culture and needs—a willingness she never saw in her zoned district school—meant the world to her.

To read more, visit EdAllies.