Ratios and Rewards: A Discussion of Integration in Charter Schools

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Given the drastic deviation from the original vision of desegregated charters, Smarter Charter devotes much of its discussion to the benefits of integration. One of the greatest results is the reduction in discrimination and prejudice. Increasing contact between individuals of different backgrounds provides opportunities to recognize similarities disprove stereotypes and increase intergroup comfort (55). Another important advantage is that high-poverty students do better academically when they attend integrated and economically diverse institutions. Not only are motivation and ambition contagious, deprived students are able to accelerate their learning through informal interactions with peers (64). Reduced isolation is a requirement in Connecticut schools, but charters are not held to any particular criteria. Binding administrators to strict standards increases accountability through severe consequences and potential termination. Charter schools are given loose demands, which contributes to maintaining segregated schools. Because of the remarkable rewards, integration should be a necessity in charters and become a stricter requirement with set ranges for ratios between different socioeconomic and racial groups.

How do we determine the ratio that produces the best rewards? One might assume targeting the students who are most in need would create the largest reward, since more deprived students would receive better education. Kahlenberg and Potter, however, explain that “the negative effects of concentrated poverty tend to kick in where a clear majority of students are low in-come” (62). A classroom with a far greater percentage of high-poverty students puts all students at risk of a decreased academic environment. The reverse is dangerous as well. Stereotype threat is a phenomenon in psychology that claims simply by being aware of one’s race in comparison to others can cause an individual to underperform due to anxiety that they will confirm cultural stereotypes. Kahlenberg and Potter describe a girl in an all-Muslim school who didn’t feel embarrassed when excusing herself for prayer (20). If she had been placed in a school with majority white, middle-class students, she might have felt embarrassment over her cultural differences, potentially hindering her performance. There’s also the chance that academically deprived students will feel inferior among an ocean of advanced peers; the pressure to achieve at the same level may backfire and result in decreased self-esteem and poor performance.

Kahlenberg and Potter later state “that 70% is a threshold at which a group is at risk of becoming a dominant culture” and recommend charters have between 30% to 70% low-income students (120). This seems fair and practical, and should extend to the racial and ethnic ratios within charter school enrollments. By preventing any one group from falling into dominance, the likelihood of negative effects should decrease significantly. The authors recommend that the state enforce desegregation laws, monitor school compliance and require recruitment plans for outreach (168). Administrators should be thoughtful about creating outreach plans that produce more balanced ratios between different socioeconomic and racial groups. In order to attain the greatest quality and quantity of the positive effects of integration, policymakers should establish and enforce a required benchmark for integration in charter regulations.


Questions to authors:

1. It seems like Minnesota set the stage for the rest of the country’s establishment of charters. How much did Minnesota’s adoption and alteration of the charter vision affect the trajectory of charter schools across the country?

2. One example of preventing class/level divides was giving students the option to take classes at the honors level by completing extra assignments. However, stakes are high and college competition is intense. If a university knows your school offered an advanced level and it wasn’t taken, your chances of acceptance decrease. How functional and successful is this given the current state of college admissions?

3. If middle-class parents are more likely to volunteer, to donate, to be politically savy and hold administrators accountable, does this give them a leg up in terms of making lasting change for issues that concern them and their child? What happens when demands of middle-class parents do not include or apply to low in-come parents?