I received a long response from Joe Nathan in response to my post about segregation in the charter schools of Minnesota.
My post included a link to an article by John Hechinger of Bloomberg News about charter schools in that state that are one-race or one-ethnic group.
The question Joe Nathan’s response raises is this: Is segregation in a public facility (remember, charter schools say they are public schools) commendable so long as the individuals there choose to be segregated?
My problem is that I am old enough to remember that segregationists in the South in the 1950s advocated “freedom of choice” as their answer to the Brown decision. They argued precisely what Joe is saying here. They said, let families choose, and let the chips fall where they may. Curiously, the chips fell where they had always been, with white children in this school and black children in that school.
This is Joe Nathan’s comment:
Bill Wilson, Former Minnesota Commissioner of Human Rights and first African American elected to the St. Paul City Council Presidency, and I responded to these questionable assertions in a column, a portion of which is below. Both of us support more excellent public schools, whether district or charter.
One of us (Wilson) responded several years ago at the Minnesota legislature to the charge that charter schools such as the one he founded were “segregated.” He differentiated between schools like his (Higher Ground Academy) and the segregated public school he was forced to attend in Indiana: “We had no choice,” he recalled. “I was forced to attend an inferior school, farther from home than nearby, better-funded ‘whites-only’ schools. Higher Ground is open to all. No one is forced to attend. Quite a difference.”
Here’s a bit more of that article.
After working in urban communities for a combination of more than 80 years, one of us serving as Minnesota’s State Commissioner of Human Rights and being elected first African American to serve as St. Paul’s City Council Chair, and helping produce major gains with low income and students of color, we vigorously disagree with a recent assertion on the Charter Notebook blog site that “…any achievement” by a group of students at a charter school that is predominantly of one race is “hollow.” (Rachel Scott, “Independent Charter Schools and Diversity, Part One: The Problem of “Resegregation,” January 18, 2012)
Imposed separation because of or on the basis of race or color is the classic definition of segregation. People choosing of their own free will to attend a public school is the exercise of liberty. The right to assemble and exercising freedom of choice is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. How then is choosing which charter school to attend not consistent with the right of assembly? Unlike imposed segregation, charter schools include all who apply or wish to come. Unlike segregated schools of the 1950’s and 1960’s, these schools most certainly do not exclude anyone because of their race or color of skin.
Minnesota’s largest daily newspaper, the Star Tribune has found for the last two years that the vast majority of Minneapolis-St Paul area public schools that are “beating the odds” are charter public schools. In September, 2011, a graphic appeared in the Star Tribune listing the 10 public schools in reading and math with high percentages of low income students that had the highest percentage of students proficient in reading or math on the official statewide examinations. See:http://www.startribune.com/newsgraphics/129810153.html.
The top eight of the ten schools listed in math were charter public schools, and the top nine of ten schools listed in reading were charter public schools. These were schools that “showed the highest percentage of students scoring at grade level or better, despite having a high number of students living in poverty.” To be eligible to be on the list, a school had to enroll at least 85% students from low-income families.
The vast majority of these high-ranking charter public schools enrolled 80% or more students of color. Many of the “beat the odds” schools enrolled 90% or more from one race. Bill Wilson, co-author of this blog post (and former Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights) founded and is director of one of these schools. US News and World Report also has listed the school Wilson helped start, Higher Ground Academy, as one of the nation’s finest high schools.
Denying the value of these schools, as Scott does in her recent blog post, reminds us of what Ralph Ellison wrote about in the civil rights classic, Invisible Man. Ellison wrote, in part, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”