Today marks the 61st anniversary of Brown v Board of Education; while many point to this decision as ending black segregation in southern schools (which certainly is true), the implications of this US Supreme Court decision were much far more reaching.
The high court’s decision impacted minority students in general; the ruling has been used in order to integrate students not just with different skin colors, but those students who speak different languages, practice different religions (or no religion at all), or who have disabilities.
Unfortunately, a few weeks ago Idaho’s State Charter Commission released its first ever annual report regarding student enrollment demographic data at Idaho’s charter schools. The depressing data indicated that minority students (of all kinds) were largely left out of Idaho’s charter schools.
With few exceptions, the Commission’s findings indicated that charters in Idaho were not reflective on the communities’ demographics; instead, minority students were largely absent in public charter schools, even in areas of high minority populations (e.g. areas of high Latino and Spanish-speaking student enrollment).
I had already been blogging and writing about the disparity in minority enrollment at Idaho charter schools via several information requests for enrollment data from the Idaho Dept. of Education. Those posts explored in detail how non-white students, special education students, and Free/Reduced lunch qualifying students were disproportionately left out of charter schools in comparison to the surrounding school districts’ enrollment demographics.
Prior to the State releasing it’s own report, I wrote an OpEd published in various outlets including IdahoEdNews exploring some of the disparity in student enrollment, particularly in Canyon County where I live. That writing was met with a competing essay by Amy Russell, Communications Coordinator for the Idaho Charter School Network (the lobbying arm of Idaho’s Charter Schools).
Ms. Russell not so subtlety suggested in her writing that I had cherry-picked data “that do not fully represent the variability that takes place” from school to school I chose to include which led to a biased and inaccurate reflection of Idaho’s charter school demographics.
Terry Ryan, President of the Idaho Charter School Network, went one step further and explicitly accused me of cherry-picking the data I utilized in the column.
That response struck me as odd; As far back as 2006 Vanderbilt University had distributed their research indicating that Idaho’s charters were not doing a very good job at being inclusive places for minority populations; in other words, my findings weren’t really anything new. Here’s a sample of their findings back in 2006:
In any case, shortly after those competing sets of writings were published, the Idaho Charter Commission released its own independent report which dispelled any doubt regarding the wild imbalance of charter school demographics in comparison to their neighboring traditional districts. I also encourage anyone who cares to read the report’s companion, Understanding the Annual Report.
Here’s a sample of just how bad the student imbalance is in Idaho Charters:
That’s right, only 1 in 10 Idaho charters are reflective of the surrounding community’s ethnic demographics.
The report prompted me to write a follow-up OpEd, also published across the state, sharing the report’s findings with citizens in Idaho. Again, that OpEd was met with competing writing from Idaho Charter School Network, this time from Terry Ryan.
In Mr. Ryan’s editorial, he acknowledged the demographic gap in minority student enrollment exposed in the report and the need to help charters become more inclusive places for minority students; however, his solution to make this a reality was a call build more charter schools. Mr. Ryan’s writing states:
Sorry, but that “solution” strikes me as being counterproductive. See, we already have charter schools in locations with high populations of minority students. There is no need to build additional charters for minority students; rather, there is simply a need to make existing charter schools more inclusive.
And while I can certainly sympathize with funding structures that make it difficult for charter schools to build facilities, charter schools in Idaho have managed to build facilities that largely are not sharing in an equitable burden in providing special services for minority students including English Language Instruction and Special Education services.
In other words, the facilities are already here. The problem is not that we need to build more; the problem is that we need to fix the ones already in place before we foolishly continue building more charters and exasperate the issue further.
As mentioned earlier, this week marks the anniversary of the US Supreme Court Brown v Board decision; I find it only appropriate in the wake of the Charter Commission Report’s findings to ask for a moratorium on Idaho’s charter schools until we address the imbalance, and I wrote an OpEd declaring this position this week.
Here’s a short list of ways to improve minority student enrollment in Idaho’s Charter Schools. I fully anticipate some of these items won’t be popular:
- End preferences during lottery given for founders of charters
- End preferences during lottery given for employees of charters
- End preferences given to parents who have siblings in charters
- End the newly made preference during lottery that is given to any student who was enrolled in any charter school during the previous academic school year
- Provide busing transportation to all of Idaho’s charters
- Provide free/reduced lunch programs at all of Idaho’s charters
- Provide genuine minority service instruction including:
- English Language Learner programs
- True Special Education programs including resource rooms / extended resource rooms providing specialized instruction for special education students as mandated in their Individualized Education Plan
- Response to Intervention (RTI) programs for struggling students.
In this polarized political environment our nation has found itself in, a question often presents itself querying how citizens came to be so far apart and not willing to engage in compromise. Part of answering that question directly relates to the ability to empathize with someone else’s opinion and viewpoint.
The single best way to help cultivate empathy is to make sure starting at a young age that children have opportunities to interact with peers different from themselves; different languages, cultures, religions, family dynamics, and engagement with individuals with disabilities allows a student opportunities to build empathy for individuals different than themselves, an ability to understand points of view even if at the end of the day they do not agree.
Unfortunately, it appears that charter schools are largely denying students this opportunity; instead, data demonstrates that Idaho’s charter school environments a largely monocultures of homogenous student groups.
Isn’t it time to do something about it?