The Education Law Center is one of the nation’s leading legal organizations defending the civil rights of students.

In this important new report, it presents a critical analysis of Philadelphia’s charter sector and its indifference to the civil rights of students.

I urge you to read the report in full.

When charters take the students who are least challenging to educate, the traditional public schools are overburdened with the neediest students but stripped of the resources required to educate them. It is neither efficient nor wise to maintain two publicly funded school systems, one of which can choose its students, leaving the other with the students it doesn’t want.

Once again, we are reminded that charter schools ignore equity concerns in their pursuit of test scores, that they enroll proportionately few of the neediest students, and that they intensify segregation even in cities that are already segregated.

Here is a summary of its findings:

  • As a whole, traditional charter schools in Philadelphia are failing to ensure equitable access for all students, and the district’s Charter School Performance Framework fails to provide a complete picture of this concerning reality.
  • Annual compliance metrics and overall data on special education enrollment mask high levels
    of segregation between district and traditional charter schools. Traditional charter schools serve proportionately high percentages of students with disabilities, such as speech and language impairments, that typically require lower-cost aids and services. However, they benefit financially from a state funding structure that allocates special education funding independent of student need, leaving district schools with fewer resources to serve children with more significant special education needs.
  • District schools on average serve roughly three times as many English learners as traditional charter schools, and there are high levels of language segregation across charter schools.Roughly 30% of traditional charters have no English learners at all. In addition, nearly all of the charters at or above the district average of 11% are dedicated to promoting bilingualism, suggesting the percentages at the remaining charter schools may be even further below the district average.
  • Despite provisions in the Charter School Law permitting charters to target economically disadvantaged students, traditional charters, in fact, serve a population that is less economically disadvantaged than the students in district-run schools.
  • Students in Philadelphia charters are more racially isolated than their district school counterparts. More than half of Philadelphia charters met our definition of “hyper-segregated,” with more than two-thirds of the students coming from a single racial group and white students comprising less than 1% of the student body. This is roughly six times the rate for district schools. Conversely, 12% of traditional charters in Philadelphia enroll over 50% white students in a single school. This is more than twice the rate of district schools (5%). iii

We know from other research that certain underserved student populations – such as students experiencing homelessness and students in foster care – are underserved by charter schools. For example, Philadelphia’s traditional charter schools serve
only one third the number of students experiencing homelessness compared with district schools.iv

Both the district’s own Charter School Performance Framework and national research point to systemic practices that contribute to these inequities. Among them are enrollment and other school-level practices that keep out or push out students with the greatest educational needs.

A charter authorizing system that focuses attention on academic and financial performance to the exclusion of equity incentivizes charters to continue to underserve students with the greatest educational needs. To improve equity, the Education Law Center recommends that the Philadelphia Board of Education do the following:

• Ensure that its evaluation of new and existing charters includes and monitors equitable access findings.

• Direct the Charter School Office to build upon the existing Charter School Performance Framework to better center issues of equity during the application and renewal processes, including collecting and reporting key data elements regarding equitable access.

• Grant the Charter School Office additional capacity to provide appropriate oversight, including serving as a recognized resource for parent complaints and reviewing each charter school’s policies and practices.