Could charter schools and school choice be the best hope for integrating our public schools by race and income?
Charter schools are public schools operated by independent organizations, usually nonprofits. They are freed from many of the rules that constrain district-operated schools. In exchange for increased autonomy, they are normally held accountable for their performance by their authorizers, who close or replace them if they fail to educate children. Most are schools of choice, and unlike magnet schools in traditional districts, they are not allowed to select their students. If too many students apply, they hold lotteries to see who gets in.
Not everyone acknowledges the potential of public charters and school choice to spur integration in America’s schools. Last summer, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten went so far as to label the school choice movement “the only slightly more polite cousin of segregation.”
In most charter schools, teachers choose not to unionize. Union memberships have shrunk as charter sectors have grown, so it’s no surprise that teachers unions hate charter schools and, by extension, school choice.
But as is often the case, Weingarten’s words were about 180 degrees from the truth. Traditional districts without public school choice often reflect the racial segregation that exists in their neighborhoods. In contrast, charters and school choice offer several avenues to integrate our schools.
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