UCLA Civil Rights Project Still Wrong on Charter Segregation

How U.S. public schools should look according to CRP analysis

My colleagues, Gary Ritter, Nathan Jensen, Brian Kisida, and Josh McGee, have a piece in the coming issue of Education Next dissecting the recent UCLA Civil Rights Project (CRP) report on charter school racial segregation.  This was their initial take on the CRP report, but now they have taken a more detailed look and still find that CRP is wrong.

The primary error of the CRP report is that it compares charter to traditional public schools nationwide or at the state level.  Comparisons at this high level of aggregation are completely inappropriate because charters are concentrated in heavily minority central cities while traditional public schools are evenly dispersed.  Comparing the racial composition of urban charter schools to traditional public schools statewide or nationwide is like comparing the racial composition of U.S. schools to global schools.  We would shockingly find that U.S. schools are woefully under-representing ethnic Chinese and Indian students.  The fact that those students live half way around the globe is as unimportant to CRP as the fact that all those white traditional public school students live on the opposite side of the state or country from most charter schools.

This type of comparison is so obviously silly that one has to wonder why the CRP did it or anyone believed it.  But of course the answer to that mystery is easy — they just want something to beat up charter schools and especially to scare minority elites away from choice by equating choice with segregation.  If CRP were really concerned with segregation rather than maintaining local public school monopolies, they might have been focused on the issue Greg posted yesterday.

In any event, be sure to check out the new Ed Next piece.  It ends with a particularly strong conclusion:

The authors of the Civil Rights Project report conclude,

Our new findings demonstrate that, while segregation for blacks among all public schools has been increasing for nearly two decades, black students in charter schools are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in intensely segregated settings.

Our analysis suggests that these claims are certainly overstated. Furthermore, the authors fail to acknowledge two significant truths.

First, the majority of students in central cities, in both the public charter sector and in the traditional public sector, attend intensely segregated minority schools. Neither sector has cause to brag about racial diversity, but it seems clear that the CRP report points its lens in the wrong direction by focusing on the failings of charter schools. As the authors themselves note, across the country only 2.5 percent of public school children roam the halls in charter schools each day; the remaining 97.5 percent are compelled to attend traditional public schools. And we know that, more often than not, the students attending traditional public schools in cities are in intensely segregated schools. If we are truly concerned about limiting segregation, then this is where we should look to address the problem.

Second, and perhaps more important, the fact that poor and minority students flee segregated traditional public schools for similarly segregated charters does not imply that charter school policy is imposing segregation upon these students. Rather, the racial patterns we observe in charter schools are the result of the choices students and families make as they seek more attractive schooling options. To compare these active parental choices to the forced segregation of our nation’s past (the authors of the report actually call some charter schools “apartheid” schools) trivializes the true oppression that was imposed on the grandparents and great-grandparents of many of the students seeking charter options today.

6 Responses to UCLA Civil Rights Project Still Wrong on Charter Segregation

  1. Patrick says:

    How can well educated professors at a well known national research university make this elementary mistake? I haven’t read the report, but did they even acknowledge this possibility (charter schools operating in public school districts that were already highly segregated) even existed?

    How did it pass the non-partisan, objective, illustrious, infallible, bullet-proof peer review process without such criticism?

    • allen says:

      The status quo needs defense and playing the race card has been a reliable technique to preclude calmly dealing with an issue.

      The ed profs can make this elementary mistake because A) no one they must answer too will call them on it and, B) because their “research” helps to defend the status quo – the district-based system. Since the report isn’t so much an academic work as a political weapon there will be very little, if any, acknowledgement of criticism and since the peer review process us suborned by being packed with similar-minded academics, there’s no hope of redress there.

      • Patrick says:

        I don’t know. I have a hard time thinking a trained academic/researcher would do this just to defend the status quo.

        I’d accept incompetence as the reason, but a blatant disregard for facts to produce a predetermined outcome… Maybe I’m just naive.

      • allen says:

        One word: ClimateGate.

  2. momof4 says:

    I don’t think it’s a mistake, but a deliberate tactic to paint charter schools as racist and thereby increase pressure to close them. Their closure has been a priority for the public education establishment at all levels, along with establishing barriers to their formation and operation.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    This method for measuring segregation has been exposed as bogus numerous times before, in numerous contexts (not just in the debate over charters). Better methods for measuring segregation have been developed and are in use. Yet this and similar bogus methods continue not only to be used but to be more widely used than the legitimate methods. And those who use the bogus methods have never, so far as I know, offered any explanation for why they use them, or even acknowledged the existence of other methods.

    Parsimonious hypothesis that covers the facts: This method of measuring segregation is a useful dye marker identifying the people who are more interested in justifying a predetermined agenda than in following the facts.

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