By Linda Nwoke
Editorial credit: Darwin Brandis / Shutterstock.com
In 2014, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA reported that New York State was the most segregated state in the nation for Black students. The problem persists. In an updated analysis using 2018 data, a new report released in June 2022 from the Civil Rights Project finds that New York retains its place as the most segregated state for black students and second most segregated for Latino students, trailing only California. In 2018 in New York, 90% of black students attended predominantly nonwhite schools, while Latino enrollment in predominantly nonwhite schools has remained roughly stable (84%). Almost two out of three black and over half Latino students attend intensely segregated schools, where less than 10% of student enrollment is white.
Every child deserves an education, yet it is more critical for children from black and brown communities than others because they are more likely to live in poverty, attend underfunded and understaffed schools, and be more likely to be expelled or suspended from school. In 2020, over 20% of black and 18% of Hispanic children lived in poverty, compared to 7% of white children, while in 2018–2019, black students were sent out of school three times more than white students.
Yet education remains a crucial strategy to help black and brown children overcome challenges, grow to their full potential, and contribute to their communities.
Educational disparities faced by black and brown children
Data consistently shows a persistent achievement gap between public school students from black and brown communities and their white counterparts. For instance, in 2019, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores revealed a significant gap in test scores between ethnic and racial groups. According to the report, while 35% of white students scored proficiently, only 13% of black and 19% of Hispanic students achieved proficiency in 8th-grade math.
A related study by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reveals that black students are disproportionately suspended and expelled compared to their white counterparts, starting as early as preschool and at a higher rate.
Systemic Factors Contribute to the Disparities
Several factors contribute to the disparities in public schools, many are systemic, and they affect many black and brown students. For instance, school funding is a significant challenge many schools in black and brown communities face because they are mostly underfunded, which results in difficulty in providing students with a quality education.
Secondly, many schools in minority communities have fewer experienced and qualified teachers. They are also unable to discipline the students, leading to a high level of suspension among black and brown students compared to white students, even if the latter group commits the same offenses.
Additionally, the curriculum used in black and brown communities’ schools is deemed unconnected to their students’ experiences. Furthermore, minority students are likelier to attend schools segregated by race and poverty.
Most of these disparities contribute to adverse long-term academic outcomes and limited future opportunities for children from these minority groups.
Charter Schools as a Potential Solution
Charter schools play a significant role in the education system. Remarkably, they contribute to the diversification of the educational system by offering an alternative to traditional public schools. They are private organizations governed by separate rules and regulations. Their mission is to provide innovative approaches to quality education for underserved students. One of their critical assets is the freedom to explore new teaching curricula and methods of delivery.
Yet, they have remained controversial, especially in New York, since their inception in 1998, with numerous arguments for and against their existence. While some believe they are a valuable alternative to traditional public schools, others believe they drain public resources and deter students from attending the best public schools.
Those supporting charter schools argue that they positively impact their children’s achievement even though they are more rigorous. Specifically, their existence provides an alternative option for parents to choose from. Moreover, they are more innovative in their teaching approach and generally more accountable than traditional public schools.
However, some opponents of the option argue against all the positive points linked to its existence. For instance, they believe that despite the rigor of the approach, it does not necessarily positively impact students’ achievement. Furthermore, they maintain the age-old argument that charter schools prevent public schools from getting the resources that traditional public schools require to cater to a larger population of students. They also argue that they do not undergo the same level of accountability screening and tend to be elitist in approach, causing segregation in the public school system.
For instance, one of the famous charter schools in New York City, Success Academy Charter School Network, which operates over 49 schools, has battled numerous negative feedback on its inability to handle kids under 10 with unique struggles adequately. According to analytical reports from The City and ProPublica based on NYPD data, the school called 911 on kids under ten between July 2016 and 2022 more than 85 times to help them manage a couple of the kids with disruptive behavior and exhibited some distress.
Such controversial issues surrounding charter schools in New York will likely continue because of the presenting facts and evidence for and against the arguments. Some of these are worth considering and discussing before concluding because of the far-reaching effect of these decisions. For instance, while charter schools receive funding from the state, it is established that funding per student in these schools is less than what is given in traditional public schools. They argue that charter schools are not obligated to provide their students with certain levels of specialized services, transportation, and special education.
Some charter schools are more hands-on in managing children and parents that fall outside the continuum, and they are also often located in ‘safe or “normal” neighborhoods than traditional public schools. This is because charter schools often result from dissatisfied parents unhappy with their local public schools.
The controversy surrounding charter schools is complex, and there is no easy answer. It is essential to weigh all the evidence before forming an opinion.
Charter Schools and Ways of Addressing Needs of Black and Brown Students
As of the time of this report, findings show that by the 2022–23 school year, New York will have over 340 charter schools in operation, serving over 170,000 students.
Most schools offer smaller class sizes and personalized learning, focusing on building a student’s area of academic deficiency with a significant amount of parental involvement. This combined approach results in improved educational outcomes.
Some other ways they address the specific needs of black and brown children include recruiting and retaining teachers of color who look like and understand the experiences of black and brown students. They also serve as positive role models in the classroom for the students.
They also provide culturally relevant curricula relevant to their experiences as students and mentorship and community engagement programs that are culturally responsive, leading to improved academic achievement, self-esteem, and empowerment.
In NYC, some of the charter schools with the highest number of black and brown student enrollments based on their websites are Success Academy Harlem (98%), Success Academy Bronx 2 (97%), Success Academy Brooklyn 1 (96%), KIPP NYC College Prep (95%), Uncommon Schools Harlem Village Academy (94%), Achievement First Harlem (93%), Democracy Prep Harlem (92%), School for Social Justice (91%), and Urban Assembly Academy for Young Writers (90%).
Parents Want More Charter Schools
According to a new poll, signs indicate that parents strongly support charter schools — and want Gov. Kathy Hochul and Albany lawmakers to raise the state-imposed cap and open more publicly funded alternatives as an option for their kids. The online Morning Consult survey conducted for the pro-school choice Democrats for Education Reform (DFER-NY) concluded that 64% of parents favor charter schools. In comparison, only 22% have an unfavorable view, with the remainder undecided or having no opinion.
Even with strong parental support, Hochul and Democrats who control the state legislature and have close ties to the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the anti-charter teachers’ union, have refused to raise the state-imposed cap, leaving about a dozen proposed schools in limbo.
On May 23, Assembly member Brian Cunningham, District 43 in Brooklyn, sponsored Assembly Bill A7500 that would grant priority to charter school applicants with a board of trustees and school administrators of at least fifty-one percent minority group members. AM Cunningham had previously told the press, “This is a war on making sure our families have choices, that our parents can choose where they want to send their kids.”
Policy Changes to Enhance Performance of Charter Schools for Black and Brown Students
Specific steps to improve the performance of charter schools for minority students include increasing funding for charter schools to provide students with resources and enhance the quality of education. Secondly, it is essential to introduce policies that will reform admission into charter schools, such as adopting admission policies that are fair, equitable, and non-discriminatory against black and brown students. This will ensure all students have an equal opportunity to attend a charter school.