Julian Vasquez Heilig spoke at the Journey for Justice National Town Hall in D.C. on December 12. He addressed his remarks to the charter supporters who dismissed claims that charters exacerbate segregation. Specifically, he spoke in response to an article in New York magazine by Jonathan Chait, who said that charters don’t cause segregation, they help its victims. Heilig contends that charters exacerbate segregation, as choice always does, and that they draw resources away from the districts that enroll most students.

Heilig has been an active member of the NAACP and chair of its education committee in California.

This is his speech:

Members of the civil rights community have expressed that charters are more segregated, are underperforming, and lack appropriate transparency and accountability to the public.

As a result, in 2016, the Movement for Black Lives, the NAACP and Journey For Justice all called for a charter moratorium.

A national conversation about charters is especially important for the African American community because a report by the NAACP’s Task Force on Quality Education found that one in eight African American students in the United States now attends a charter school.

Even though the popularity of charter schools has plummeted in the public discourse and in many quarters of the civil rights community, the rise in the number of charters has been particularly rapid during the past ten years. Many states have lifted caps on the number of charter schools contained within the original state legislation, owing in part to millions of dollars in financial incentives created by government grant programs and funding that has poured in from foundations funded by billionaires such as Broad, Walton, Gates, Arnold and others

Considering the rapid growth of charter schools, it’s important for the public conversations about school choice to distinguish fact from rhetoric and sloganeering.

Are charters more segregated that neighborhood public schools?

The AP recently reported that about 1 in 7 charters schools are 99% students of color.

In addition to media reports, the predominance of peer reviewed research examining national and local data on the segregation of students in charter schools over the past ten years has demonstrated that school choice is exacerbating existing patterns of segregation.

The research has actually shown this for about two decades. For example, using three national data sets, one research study found that charter schools are “more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the nation.”

Research conducted by Vanderbilt University and Mathematica argued that charters are not “creating greater segregation,” but a careful reading of the data reveals that in the majority of states examined, white and African American students were more likely to choose even more homogenous charter schools.

Why are charters more segregated? The argument is often made by charter proponents that their schools sit in segregated neighborhoods. However, one of the big problems with school choice is that research is demonstrating that “Parents choose to leave more racially integrated district schools to attend more racially segregated charter schools.”

The peer reviewed research has shown that Whites are less likely to attend charters schools with large numbers of Black and Latinos because White families purposefully avoid charter schools that focus on test preparation and “No Excuses” discipline. Recent research has also shown that White families are more likely to attend charters that have parent voice on the board— charters predominately serving Black and Latinos are much less likely to have board members that are parents.

In sum, peer reviewed research has demonstrated that the purposeful choice of African American and white families leads to schools with more homogenous racial compositions than neighborhood public schools and “explains why there are so few racially balanced charter schools.”

So what about the argument that charters perform better? A prominent study found that choice was bad for achievement on average as, “the relatively large negative effects of charter schools on the achievement of African America students is driven by students who transfer into charter schools that are more racially isolated than the schools they have left.”

Even CREDOs most recent study of urban students shows that in 93% of measurements of reading and math in large cities across the United States, charters actually still have a negative impact on Black students. In the cases where charter perform better, the difference is typically minuscule, like the amount of difference between two football teams that are 1-10 and 0-11. In somes cases where charters perform better overall, such as Philadelphia, the overall positive performance of charter can be attributed to White and Asian students success, rather than spectacular academic success for Black and Latino students.

Furthermore, it is very clear that after more than 25 years of trying, charters have failed to dramatically change the inequality status quo in our nation. However, where they are succeeding is setting democratically-accountable districts like Los Angeles on a collision course with bankruptcy.

Our society has spent hundreds of millions of dollars building, financing and funding charters schools at great expense to taxpayers— considering the evidence to this point, the underwhelming results, and in many cases reprehensible, should be considered a national disappointment.

See Julian’s speech here: