There’s a smokescreen of allegations that charter schools are leading to school re-segregation.
Now, a University of Arkansas team takes a look at one specific example of the shaky research behind such claims in a new article in the Summer 2010 edition of Education Next, “A Closer Look at Charter Schools and Segregation.”
“A Closer Look” takes strong issue with the methodology of another recent report from the UCLA-based Civil Rights Project (CRP), claiming that study’s “flawed comparisons lead to overstated conclusions.”
In one, easy to understand example, the Arkansas team points out that if you are looking for data on segregation, you cannot fairly do the job by comparing student demographics of inner city Washington DC charter schools to the demographics of upscale suburban schools that surround Washington.
You have to compare ‘apples to apples’ by looking at the demographics for typical public schools that serve the same population within Washington, DC. Once that is done, assertions about segregation start to crumble.
The University of Arkansas team points out that throughout its analysis of charter schools around the nation, the UCLA crowd’s mistake is to compare charter schools, which are predominantly found in inner city locations that have high minority populations, to much broader geographic areas where far more whites are located.
The Arkansas team provides interesting data that shows this is a very inappropriate comparison. Once inner city charter schools are compared to typical public schools that are also from the inner city, most of the racial gaps between charter and traditional public schools disappear. This graph from the Education Next article shows how that works.
The two sets of bars on the left show there isn’t much difference in the segregation rates of either typical public schools or charter schools in the inner (central) city. In both cases, there is very high minority presence. In contrast, the set of bars on the right of the graph show the flawed method used by the CRP crowd at UCLA identifies less segregation in both systems but also indicates a much larger gap between charters and typical public schools.
Sadly, this argument highlights yet another case where poor education data hampers understanding. The Arkansas team admits that the available data still isn’t good enough to do a really high quality ‘apples to apples’ comparison. The Arkansas team says that even the gap they show in the left bars of their graph would probably be reduced even more if a better set of data were available. Such data would allow precise tracking of all charter school students back to the typical public school they would otherwise attend.
So, here is another example of how educators are failing to produce the data we all need to analyze how our schools are doing. The lack of that data is leading to smokescreens and confusion about many important education questions including this one about segregation. Considering the huge amount of money we now spend on our public schools, such poor research is simply unacceptable.