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Number of mostly white suburban charters has risen by 40% over 5 years, report says

The number of predominantly white charter schools in increasingly diverse Twin Cities suburbs grew by 40 percent over the last five years, according to a report just released by University of Minnesota researchers.

The survey, conducted by the U of M Law School’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity (IMO), is the third since 2008 to find segregation throughout the charter sector on the rise. More than half of the 129 charter schools in operation during the 2012-2013 school year were predominantly nonwhite, while 40 were predominantly white. Just 21 qualified as integrated.

Several of the mostly white programs are located in communities that recently lived through racially charged controversies as they attempted to redraw school attendance boundaries to achieve balance. Whether by intent or not, said Myron Orfield, director of the former Institute on Race and Poverty, the programs facilitate white flight from increasingly diverse traditional schools in the suburbs. 

“They’re having a profound effect on public policy in the districts where they’re located,” said Orfield. Leaders in Eden Prairie, Osseo, Bloomington and Apple Valley have struggled to keep families who don’t like the new attendance maps.

State has history of ambivalence toward integration

Segregation in charter schools has been a long-simmering issue in Minnesota, which has a history of ambivalence toward integration in education in general. As affluent whites moved in recent decades to the suburbs, they left behind concentrations of poor children in urban schools.

As the impoverished mainline public schools faltered, large numbers of minority families turned to charters and to suburban schools, either via open enrollment or by moving altogether. This made traditional suburban schools more diverse.

In 2001, Orfield and Thomas F. Luce Jr. report, “white charter students were actually less likely then to be in a predominantly white school than their traditional counterparts — 56 percent compared to 81 percent. However, by 2012-2013, the share of white charter students in predominantly white schools had risen to 73 percent while it declined to 53 percent in traditional schools.”

Percentage of students in segregated school settings by race and school type, 2000–2013

Chart of integration and segregation in schools
Source: Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity/Minnesota Department of Education
By 2012-2013, the share of white charter students in predominantly white schools had risen to 73 percent while it declined to 53 percent in traditional schools.

The predominately white schools in the survey have student bodies that are less than 20 percent minority. They account for two-thirds of suburban charters, vs. 44 percent of suburban mainline public schools. Orfield and Luce defined a predominantly nonwhite school as one where two-thirds of students are minorities.

Five of the mostly white schools are located in communities where school district leaders have come under intense pressure as they attempted to address racial imbalances between schools by redrawing attendance boundaries.

Eden Prairie: New mix of students upset some

In 2010 and 2011, Eden Prairie endured one divisive meeting after another over a plan to redraw school attendance boundaries to create better socioeconomic balance, among other goals. The plan was adopted, but the contract of the superintendent who insisted on it was bought out the following year.

Families threatened to leave, and many did. It’s not clear how many enrolled in Minnetonka and other neighboring districts and how many left for charters.

The nearby charter Eagle Ridge Academy went from 280 students in grades 6-12 in 2009 to 826 in K-12 this year. In 2012, 90 percent of the charter’s students were white. This year, 81 percent are. Poverty is commensurately low.

Map: Classification of Minnesota schools by integration status

Source: Minnesota Department of Education/Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity [XLSX]
    Majority non-white (> 60% minority)
    Integrated (20–60% minority)
    Majority white (< 20% minority)
  • Circle Non-charter school
  • Triangle Charter school
  • Square
    Suburban charters with white student percentages more than five points higher than their corresponding traditional school(s), determined by traditional school attendance boundaries.

Something similar played out in Osseo in 2007 and 2008 when a budget-cutting reorganization moved a working-class magnet into a building that had held a much whiter neighborhood school.

Angry parents voted with their feet. At least 125 students transferred into Wayzata. It’s reasonable to assume that some ended up at a nearby mostly white charter, Beacon Academy, and at Parnassus Preparatory School, which opened in the area in 2011.

Preference only to siblings, employees' children

Of course correlation, famously, does not equal causation. Charter-sector representatives note that right now, state law requires charter schools with open seats to admit anyone who applies. Preference can be given only to siblings and children of employees. If there are more applicants than seats, admissions are decided by lottery.

Because they are “schools of choice,” charters tend to attract families with similar interests and backgrounds. All three predominantly white schools, as well as many of those mentioned in the IMO report, share a “classical” approach that has become exceptionally popular with parents in recent years. All of the schools authorized by Friends of Education, the network that oversees many of the predominantly white schools, have either a core knowledge or classical Trivium philosophy specifying a particular sequence of skills. It’s not an approach targeted to any particular class or culture, however.

The authorizer’s network also includes a number of high-achieving majority-minority “classic” schools, including one that was just placed on the state’s list of schools that get top results, Minneapolis Academy.

When efforts to recruit a diverse entering cohort of students at Parnassus didn’t go well, the authorizer began looking into preferential admissions for low-income students. “We marketed the heck out of it,” said Topoluk, knocking on doors and visiting service agencies and community groups. The school still opened with fewer minorities than the district average. Sibling preference and a surplus of applications has helped keep it that way.

Potential responses

What, if anything, should be done?

Last year at the request of Friends of Education Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, introduced legislation that would allow all charters to give admissions preference to students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. (Race and poverty are tightly correlated in Minnesota.)

“Many states allow charter schools to provide enrollment preferences,” said Friends of Education’s executive director, Beth Topoluk.

Orfield and Luce, longtime charter critics, do not propose a remedy in the new report. They do argue, however, that the existence of charter schools is damaging to Twin Cities students and conventional public schools. Controlling for poverty, the majority perform more poorly than their traditional counterparts.

Poverty and math proficiency rates in Twin Cities elementary charter schools, 2012–2013

Chart of free/reduced lunch and MCA3 math scores for charter schools
Source: Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity/Minnesota Department of Education
From the report: "Among high-poverty charters, there are 14 percent more students (5,694 versus 4,997) in schools under-performing in math than in the high-performance schools."

Nor are they persuaded by the presence of a cluster of high-performing “odds-beaters” — never mind that this growing group of outliers is also vastly outperforming the vast majority of traditional schools, which have begun studying their successes. The gap-closing schools enroll fewer students than their lower-performing charter brethren, they note, and pose one more avenue through which mainline schools can lose students and resources.

Orfield and Luce argue that The Choice is Yours, a program that allows low-income Minneapolis students to enroll in suburban schools and provides them with transportation, gets better outcomes. Other local education advocates would dispute this.

Carrots and sticks

Charters could be placed under the state’s desegregation rule. This would not create quotas or admissions target, but it would provide carrots and sticks to engage in activities that both promote cross-cultural understanding and close the achievement gap.

When the idea was pushed during the latter years of the last decade, a differently configured charter sector fought the idea — hard, according to former state Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, former head of the House Education Finance Committee. Many argued that an ethnocentric approach was an important feature of their school, she recalled, while others did not want the bureaucracy.

At Higher Ground Academy in St. Paul, a charter whose students are virtually all Somali or Oromo, school founder Bill Wilson is tired of the debate. Charters are schools of choice, he reminded, and as mostly stand-alone buildings, lack the capacity to move students for balance. His students — who have put the school on U.S. New & World Report lists — get out of their building and get involved with kids of other cultures in scouting activities, Rotary Club leadership camps, a statewide youth in government program and a model United Nations. Higher Ground does this with no integration revenue — it’s not eligible — but it’s an approach that could be replicated.

The preferential-admissions bill didn’t go anywhere in the last, packed legislative session. But it is still alive and can be taken up in early 2014. If so, it would be considered by a Legislature that has already endorsed integration as an end to be valued for its own sake.

Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/09/2013 - 11:02 am.

    I hate to say but “duh”

    People don’t seem to realize the entire voucher/charter movement began back in the early 70s as a segregationist response to desegregation. The whole point of the charter/voucher movement was to re-segregate the schools so I don’t why any of this surprises people.

    • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 10/09/2013 - 09:58 pm.

      Let us empower kids and families

      There is a huge difference between charter school education and vouchers.

      Segregation may be a motive with some, but freedom is a major factor when it comes to vouchers. Freedom to invest in kids rather than unions (schools) and trickle down government education is a major motivation.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/10/2013 - 08:51 am.

        Charters v. vouchers

        I don’t see a difference, except that charter schools omit the middleman. Both are state funding for what are, in reality if not in name, private schools.

        Freedom is also a word used to justify not sending your kids to the same school as the icky kids.

    • Submitted by Joe Nathan on 10/11/2013 - 02:24 am.

      The whole point was

      a. To help more students succeed (and many more are at places like HIgher Ground Academy, Friendship Academy, Global Academy, Hiawatha Academy, Minnesota New Country School, Avalon, Trek North, Minneapolis Academy) just to name a few.
      b. Provide new professional opportunities for educators (many of the strongest charters have been started by experienced educators
      c. Provide new options for families
      d. Encourage the larger system to pay more attention to needs of students (and for example, Forest Lake created a Montessori district option after parents suggested it, and were told initially no – but then decided to say yes after parents proposed a Montessori charter; St. Paul has created a Montessori junior high after a group of parents created a Montessori charter junior-senior high, etc etc.

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/09/2013 - 12:24 pm.


    I am reminded of Claude Rains in Casablanca: You are shocked, SHOCKED to find that white suburban parents are sending their kids to overwhelmingly white charter schools. Why is this news? These charter schools are becoming a taxpayer funded version of the old southern “deseg” academies. The only difference is Minnesotans are too ashamed to admit their race and class-based motives for fleeing public schools.

    Incidentally, Ms. Hawkins, you would have a lot more credibility on this issue if you would admit that there is no evidence that charter schools do a better job of educating children than traditional public schools. Some do better, but overall, no. Outliers are anecdotes, not paradigms. As “inspiring” as we may find stories of oddsbeatinghighachieving charter schools, they are atypical. It doesn’t matter that one or two charter schools get listed by US News. Most of them are no better than public schools.

  3. Submitted by Joe Musich on 10/09/2013 - 12:31 pm.

    Could see…

    this coming.

  4. Submitted by Joe Musich on 10/09/2013 - 12:36 pm.

    Opss ! Sorry ! And they ….

    do it with data.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/09/2013 - 02:18 pm.

    Nothing original here

    I can only echo comments already made. There’s no surprise here, except that it took this long for some folks to figure this out. Because race and poverty are apparently closely correlated in Minnesota, the result is not only racial segregation, but economic segregation as well.

    Need I point out that neither one is attractive, or ethical, or in the spirit of “…equal opportunity?” People in Eden Prairie made that abundantly clear when they forced their superintendent out.

  6. Submitted by Barbara Skoglund on 10/09/2013 - 03:33 pm.

    Defining “doing better” and “diverse”

    While on the whole charters don’t outperform public school achievement, on the micro level there are charters that are making a huge difference in the lives of individual kids.

    My aspie girl goes to Avalon Charter School. Avalon is 71% white and is off of University and 280 in St. Paul. 31% of the ~183 students have an IEP and are classified “special education.” Avalon is quite publically a haven for bullied kids, especially gay, bi, and transgendered kids. I also think it is a haven for Aspie kids. My daughter spends one period of day in special education getting assistance. She is integrated in all core classes.

    Our local public school is 67.1% white and has a history of discriminattion and intolerance. My Aspie girl would have been in a building of over 1300. She would never have been allowed in a regular classroom. As indicated in our tour, “No we don’t have any bulling here. Pretty much we escort our “kids” so no one picks on them.” HA!

    Despite the 4% difference, Avalon is much more supportive of diversity than our neighborhood school. It also has a better academic record than our suburban neighborhood school. Avalon is also the only teacher co-op in the state. It is but one gem that fills a huge gap and meets the needs of kids who find no home in traditional public schools.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/09/2013 - 03:42 pm.

    Four white guys

    telling black parents that school choice for your kid is a bad idea. And poverty is because you’re black. Figures. Next they’ll be claiming that black kids can’t learn unless they’re sitting next to white kids. Oh wait …

    Oh, and you successful people of color? You’re an anomaly.

  8. Submitted by Jerilyn Jackson on 10/09/2013 - 05:58 pm.

    A corruption of the original charter school idea

    Albert Shanker, a founding father of the charter school movement, first proposed (in 1988) that teams of teachers should run schools within schools to try out new ideas for reaching kids for whom the traditional teaching methods were not working. He was disturbed by the corporate take-over of charter schools which corrupted the original intent of improvement by innovation and instead used charter schools to create competition for public schools and provide an opportunity to extract enormous profits from the education industry.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/10/2013 - 09:49 am.

      Founding father two decades after it was founded….

      Liberals in the US bought into charter schools because they didn’t realize where the idea actually came from. The “charter school” of 1988 was the reincarnation of the private school subsidized with public money that “visionaries” like Jerry Falwell had pitched back in the early 70s as means of undoing desegregation. The whole point was to create a parallel system that white parents could “choose” instead of the desegregated public schools.

      Two things went wrong. First, the right wing of American politics choose abortion rather than desegregation as it’s primary wedge issue and cause of the century. Second, proponents just couldn’t convince people that it was a good idea to divert public money into private schools for a variety of reasons.

      The Republicans continued their attack on public schools and public education by claiming that liberals had strayed too far from the mission of education; this was the “back to basics” demand of the late 70s and early 80s. With the election of Reagan “back to basics” took hold and innovation was effectively rung out of the public school system in favor of wrote memorization and standardized core curriculum. Republican hysteria about education culminated in the “Nation at Risk” report that lent support to the Republican demand for more disciplined student body. Since the whole Republican education reform movement had been based on ideology rather than data (where have we seen THAT before?) it took less than a decade for the whole thing to collapse. By then liberals and conservatives alike were under the spell of “free market” magic when Budde et al revived the old voucher idea with new public funding mechanism adn the promise that entrepreneurs with no experience in education could do what trained and educated educators could not.

      Since the charter school movement was predicated on the false assumption that NO ONE ANYWHERE knows how to educate children it was bound to produce little in the way of results. We ended up diverting billions of dollars into failed experiments by people who didn’t know what they were doing. To the extent that charter schools have succeeded they merely duplicated public school innovations that were crushed by the “back to basics” movement a decade before. The St. Louis Park public school system for instance produced the first language immersion school in MN and one of the first in the country before charter schools were a gleam in Budde’s eye. Other innovations were on the drawing board but the right wing curriculum battles, funding cuts, and fascination with “fee market” magic have effectively stunted education in the US for three decades.

      The other inevitable outcome of the charter school movement is re-segregation. The mission of re-inventing education was always a fantasy, but the original mission of segregation was predictable, and predicted.

      • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 10/10/2013 - 01:49 pm.

        The Only thing Spanish Immersion in St. Louis Park innovated….

        Was how to create a private (mostly white school) in a public school environment. Their segregation is more blatant than these charter schools. But god forbid Beth Hawkins would address such issues.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/11/2013 - 08:50 am.

          Fair point

          Yes, that accusation may have some merit, but it didn’t start out that way. To the extent that the Spanish Immersion program looks like a charter it’s because it evolved into a charter model instead of a public school model… which proves my point.

  9. Submitted by Jerilyn Jackson on 10/09/2013 - 06:00 pm.

    Read The Death and Life of the Great American School System

    by Diane Ravitch

  10. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 10/09/2013 - 08:43 pm.

    MinnPost would never bring up the subject of segregation itself – it had to be someone like Myron Orfield and his institute. Yet segregation is rampant in the Charter School industry, where it looks like a feature, not a bug. Despite the silence on the issue of segregation among the deformers, segregation is a horrid phenomenon for the entire society – just one of the many downsides of charters, high-stakes testing, and “accountability” that MinnPost and Beth Hawkins will never take seriously.

  11. Submitted by Mark Byrnes on 10/09/2013 - 09:00 pm.

    Why pick on the charter schools in the ´burbs?

    I´m sure there are number of charter schools in the cities with ¨ white student percentages more than five points higher than their corresponding traditional school¨.

    In fact, I live 3 blocks from one and am hoping to send my kids there. The choice this is not directly based on the racial make-up, but consciously on test scores and reviews from friends and neighbours.

    My assigned school has very low test scores and I have heard a series of stories about violence; kicking, choking etc.. I´m sure this happens at even the best schools, but as a parent it is hard to make a choice that might be good for the community, but not the best for my kids.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/10/2013 - 10:43 am.

      Your ACTUAL choice is one some don’t like to hear about.

      I.e., what appears best for your child vs. what “might” be best for the community.

      This is the choice that unravels the segregation argument, which would have us believe that anyone who sends their child to a particular school is motivated by racism…IF that school has a higher percentage of anglo students than the corresponding “home” or assigned school.

      So I guess your plain, common sense, rational way of choosing – based upon test scores, reports of personal violence, and the experience-based evaluations of friends and neighbors – i.e., the information actually available to you – is wrong-headed, based upon those who see segregation everywhere they look.

      Instead, we should congratulate you for your effort, for caring enough about your kids to find out which school is best FOR THEM !!

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/10/2013 - 11:10 am.

    City Charters… perfect example

    Not to pick on Mr. Byrnes but here we have a perfect example of the mechanism by which consumerism got liberals into bed with racists in the charter schools.

    The problem with consumerism is that it’s not actually rational, or outcome based. Consumers make their choices based on packaging, branding, etc. This is why consumerism is no solution to health care problems, and it’s likewise been a disaster for education.

    All charter schools in the cities have done is disperse resources that could have been concentrated to solve problems.

    When parents act like a typical consumers, they make emotional decision rather than a rational decisions. The truth is that a metric like average test scores is irrelevant as far as any individual child is concerned. Segregation alone can produce higher average test scores that have nothing to do with the quality of education, those scores are likely a product of homogeneity of the student body as much as the educational environment. With the right demographic the lack of diversity in and of itself can raise test the groups test scores. This tells us nothing about how any individual child will do in that environment, it’s a group statistic not an individual metric. Whether or not any individual kids test score is higher or lower than the school average is a function of the kids performance on the test, not average of those around him or her.

    As far as safety concerns go all I can say is that the more resources you divert from public schools with diverse student bodies, the more difficult it is to address these issues.

    As far as making decisions based on community vs. child is concerned, all I can say is that a generation of parents who were obsessed with their own children’s resumes instead of the larger community issues have created a situation where all these kids with great resumes are graduating into an economy with no jobs. The distinction between individual and community welfare is not always so easy to discern, sometimes they are one in the same thing.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/10/2013 - 02:53 pm.

      Putting Mr. Byrnes into a box called “consumerism”…

      …does not define him nor the basis of his decision regarding the welfare of his child.

      You allege he is not rational, but rather is making an “emotional” decision. While we’re on the subject of emotions, do YOU have charged emotions about this subject ?

      I doubt Mr. Byrnes needs reminding that a group statistic predicts nothing about an individual. However, it seems reasonable to be concerned with the level of achievement of classmates.

      You say, “…the lack of diversity in and of itself can raise…the groups test scores.” What does this tell you ? That higher test scores are meaningful, but only if they occur in an environment you find diverse enough ? It is difficult to tell from your argument whether you feel test scores mean anything at all when it comes to school choice.

      Likewise, beating up on charter schools does nothing to improve the quality of education in the public schools.

      Bad schools are abandoned by parents for immediate & practical reasons, bearing on the best interests of their kids, not because those parents are mindless consumers, nor because they are racist, obsessive resume-builders for their kids.

      You may well be right about the diversion of resources from the public schools as a root cause of the worsening of public education in Minneapolis. But this cannot be fixed by demonizing the parents who choose alternatives over the public schools.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/11/2013 - 09:11 am.

        No boxes here

        I think we can all see who’s emotional here Steve.

        I make no claims as to Mr. Byrne’s existential being, I’m merely point out that his behavior regarding his school choice is that of a consumer looking for a product he want to buy. Frankly, given the educational system that’s emerged from decades of confusion I’m not sure he has a choice, I wish him and child the best of luck.

        The Charter movement is absolutely an example of rampant consumerism. The whole notion is that if we give parents enough “choices” good educational models will emerge from the market. Such notions were appealing because it created the illusion that no one actually needed to make big policy decisions or solve problems, they would solve themselves… the best education system would simply emerge from the magic market place, a super man would rise like a phoenix form the ashes the old system and invent an educational system that served all of our talented children. Well, that might not be a terrible approach to selling tennis shoes, but it a completely lousy way to make public policy.

        I agree, beating up on charters is no solution. They need to be abolished and the resources need to be redirected towards fixing public schools. We know how to educate children, this knowledge does not have to be “discovered” by super man or anyone else. We know what happens when thousands of immigrant children and their families flow into a school system, AND we know how to deal it, we just need to deploy the necessary resources. Instead we cut school budgets thinking that poverty will “discipline” school districts into performing well.

        The first “charter” was issued in MN in 1991 or so, since then the “market” has failed. It’s been over 30 years and the quality of education in MN hasn’t budged in any appreciable way. Likewise racial and ethnic disparities have actually grown if anything.

        It was insane to think that creating an education “market” would produce a decent education system. The results have been very much like our health care market, we’ve got the most expensive education system on the planet producing some of the least educated graduates on the planet… but sure you can get a great education… if you can afford it.

  13. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 10/10/2013 - 03:20 pm.

    Concerns about mostly white pub schools with few low-income

    Beth T of Friends of Ed seems to have a wise suggestion that I hope the legislature will adopt – allowing suburban charters in affluent areas give preference to some students from low income families and students of color.

    Also According to the MDE website:

    Orono 93.4% white, 8.4% low income
    Minnetonka 88.4% white, 7.8% low income
    Westonka 93.1% white, 25.3% low income
    Waconia 93.8% white, 12.3% low income

    So white people should have the choice to attend such schools, but low income people of color should not?

    • Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 10/10/2013 - 06:16 pm.

      The day white parents in Orono, Minnetonka, Westonka and Waconia start sending their kids to Harvest Prep or Hiawaitha I’ll start listening to Joe Nathan.

  14. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 10/11/2013 - 02:20 am.

    Shanker & charter history

    Shanker knew (since he came to power in NY City) that there already were teams of teachers doing exactly what he proposed – creating new small schools within schools. He also wrote (accurately) that teachers who tried to create these programs often were treated “like traitors & outlaws” for daring to move outside the lockstep.” He further explained that if teachers somehow managed to start new schools they look forward to “insecurity and outright hostility.”

    Please see the experience of teachers in Mpls and St. Paul who have tried to start “site governed” schools and are encountering a great deal of opposition – not from the unions, which support them, but from the district.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/11/2013 - 09:30 am.

      Charter history or education history?

      Look at the history of US education. Yes, we have some inflexible districts, but that’s what happens when you create adversarial conditions wherein schools have to “compete” for resources rather than cooperate. It’s also what happens when you dismantle a innovative school system and replace it with back to basics one size fits all standardization.

      Look, in the 70s no two high schools (city to city) were alike. Hopkins built the only high school with it’s big telescope. They also built a high school with no windows in the classrooms. In St. Louis Park we had open campus, modular scheduling, and no school bells between classes. Within the schools teachers experimented with curriculum, and different districts had different graduation requirements. Within the St. Louis Park high school we a “mini” school for student who had difficulty with the traditional classroom environment.

      The we decided we had an education “crises” and conservatives convinced everyone the crises was cause by all this liberal experimentation in public schools. You know the story from there.

      So yeah, now you have creative teachers hamstrung by rigid districts. The solution isn’t to pretend that no one knows how to educate children. The solution isn’t to pretend that an education “market” will produce a superman who will invent the best education system. Nor is segregation any kind of solution. We had innovative and creative public systems without the segregation, we’ve done it before we can do it again.

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