School Choice

NYC charter schools join national coalition aimed at de-segregating sector

Charter schools are seeking to change the narrative that they’re part of the problem when it comes to segregation in public schools.

Two New York City charter school organizations, Brooklyn Prospect and Success Academy schools, and Brooklyn’s Community Roots Charter School are part of a new coalition formed to support efforts to serve a better mix of students based on race and socioeconomic status.

The charter school movement has always been proud to declare its success at attracting large shares of poor black and Hispanic students from the country’s perennially struggling school districts. In New York City, advocates have regularly pointed out that charter schools serve a larger share of black and Hispanic students than the city average.

But that focus came under scrutiny this year, as the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision neared. Researchers said more than 70 percent of city’s charter sector was  “intensely segregated” because they were consistently among the least diverse schools in New York. (“Talk about damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, said in response.)

Advocates for increased school integration have said that charter schools could play an outsized role in efforts to integrate schools because the schools are permitted to set aside seats in their admissions lotteries for certain types of high-needs students.

The three New York City charter operators who joined the coalition have all made moves to diversify their admissions processes. Brooklyn Prospect’s two schools set aside seats for transient students who seek to enroll at their schools in the middle of the year. Community Roots Charter School, housed in one of the city’s fastest-gentrifying neighborhoods, holds seats for students who live in the nearby public housing complexes.

Last fall, Success Academy Charter School CEO Eva Moskowitz successfully took on U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan over a federal grant policy that prohibited her schools from setting aside seats for English language learners. Success Academy is also at the forefront of the trend of opening charter schools opening in mixed-income and high-income neighborhoods in the city.

The new coalition, called the National Coalition of Diverse Charter Schools, is made up 14 individual schools and charter operators from around the country, according to its announcement. Here it is in full:

The founding schools are pleased to announce the formation of a coalition of socioeconomically and racially diverse charter schools and supporters of such schools. By forming a network to share resources, providing technical assistance, and highlighting exemplars, the coalition supports the creation and success of socioeconomically and racially integrated charter schools. In addition, the coalition hopes to promote research on the benefits and best practices of integrated schools.

“We recently had the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, but the problem of segregation persists. Charter schools need to be part of the solution,” said Jeremy Chiappetta, executive director of Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy in Rhode Island.

“I believe that charter schools can be an important part of the solution to integrating our public school systems by making it a priority to enroll student bodies that reflect that full diversity of our communities,” said Sean Wilson, head of school at the International High School of New Orleans.

“Research shows that socioeconomically and racially diverse schools offer valuable academic, cognitive, and social benefits for students. Diverse schools can help boost the achievement of low-income students while preparing all students for success in a 21st century economy that requires critical thinking and cultural awareness,” said Halley Potter, a researcher with The Century Foundation.

The core beliefs of the Coalition are as follows:

We Believe:

Diverse schools provide greater opportunities for students to learn from one another.
Diversity is a cost-effective method of boosting student achievement.
Diverse schools promote the celebration and understanding of other cultures and viewpoints.
Diverse schools invigorate and strengthen urban neighborhoods by bringing community members together.
Charter schools can and should contribute to solving the historic challenge of integrating our public school system.
Achieving diversity often requires deliberate efforts through recruitment, admissions policies and school design.
Diverse charter schools promote equality by ensuring that students from different backgrounds have the same educational opportunities.


Founding Member Schools:

Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy (Central Falls, Cumberland, Lincoln, & Pawtucket, RI)

Bricolage Academy of New Orleans (New Orleans, LA)

Brooklyn Prospect Charter School (Brooklyn, NY)

Capital City Public Charter School (Washington, DC)

City Neighbors Charter School (Baltimore, MD)

Community Roots Charter School (Brooklyn, NY)

DSST Public Schools (Denver, CO)

High Tech High (San Diego, CA)

Homer A. Plessy Community School (New Orleans, LA)

The International High School of New Orleans (New Orleans, LA)

International School of Louisiana (New Orleans, LA)

Larchmont Charter School (Los Angeles, CA)

Morris Jeff Community School (New Orleans, LA)

Success Academy Charter Schools (New York, NY)



Brian Beabout, The University of New Orleans

Eric Grannis, Tapestry Foundation

Halley Potter, The Century Foundation

Heather Schwartz, Rand Corporation

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Not over yet

A firm reprimand — but no penalty yet — for two Tennessee districts that defy deadline to share student data

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

So what will be the consequences for the two Tennessee school districts that missed a state-imposed deadline to share contact information for their students with charter schools? For now, disappointment from the state’s top education official.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen had promised to issue consequences if the two districts, Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools, did not meet the Monday deadline.

But when the end of the day passed — as expected — without any data-sharing, McQueen declined to penalize the districts. Instead, she issued a stern statement.

“We are disappointed that these districts are choosing to withhold information from parents about the options that are available to their students while routinely saying they desire more parental engagement,” she said. “Allowing parents to be informed of their educational options is the epitome of family engagement and should be embraced by every school official.”

McQueen seemed to indicate that firmer consequences could lie ahead. “We must consider all options available in situations where a district actively chooses to ignore the law,” she said in the statement. McQueen told lawmakers in a conference call last month that she was not discussing withholding state funds as a penalty at the time, according to Rep. John Clemmons, who was on the call.

The anticlimactic decision comes after weeks of back-and-forth between the state and its two largest school districts over student contact information — the latest front in the districts’ ongoing enrollment war with charter schools.

Charter schools are pressing the districts to share information about their students, arguing that they need to be able to contact local families to inform them about their school options. District leaders argue that a federal rule about student privacy lets local districts decide who gets that information. (The districts have chosen to distribute student contact information to other entities, including yearbook companies.)

The state’s attorney general sided with charter schools, saying that marketing to families is an acceptable use of student contact information and districts were required to hand it over to charter schools that requested it. Both school boards cite a committee discussion in February when state lawmakers sought to make sure the information could not be used as a “recruiting tool” as evidence that the intent of the law runs counter to the state’s application of it.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

Now, the conflict has potential to head to court. Shelby County Schools already committed last month to writing a letter outlining its arguments to support the Nashville district if it decides to file a lawsuit against the state.

As the deadline drew near, the two school boards teamed up to flesh out their positions and preview what that legal battle might look like. Over the weekend, board chairs Anna Shepherd in Nashville and Chris Caldwell in Memphis penned a letter to USA Today’s Tennessee papers arguing the districts should not be required to hand over student information to a state-run district facing deep financial, operational and academic woes.

They also pointed to a recent $2.2 million settlement between a parents and a Nashville charter network over spam text messages promoting enrollment at its schools as evidence the transaction could lead to invasion of privacy.

Clarification (Sept. 25, 2017): This story has been updated to clarify the source of McQueen’s early comments on penalties she was discussing at the time. 

deja vu

For second straight year, two charter schools denied by Memphis board appeal to the state

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education, listens last May to charter appeals by three operators in Memphis.

For the second year in a row, charter schools seeking to open in Memphis are appealing to the state after being rejected by the local board.

Two proposed all-girls schools, The Academy All Girls Charter School and Rich ED Academy of Leaders, went before the Tennessee Board of Education last week to plead for the right to open. Citing weaknesses in the schools’ planning, the Shelby County Schools board had rejected them, along with nine other charter applicants, last month. It approved three schools, many fewer than in previous years.

After state officials and charter operators complained last year that the Memphis school board didn’t have clear reasons for rejecting schools, the district revamped its charter oversight to make the review process more transparent. Now, five independent evaluators help scrutinize schools’ lengthy applications — a job that until this year had been done by three district officials with many other responsibilities. (The district also doubled the size of its charter schools office.)

The new appeals suggest that at least some charter operators aren’t satisfied by the changes.

District officials said the schools did not have clear goals for their academic programs and relied too heavily on grant funding. The board for Rich Ed Academy of Learners said in its appeal letter the district’s concerns were ambiguous and that the school would provide a unique project-based learning model for girls of color from low-income families.

The other school’s board said in its letter that the district’s decision was not in the best interest of students. A school official declined to elaborate.

The state board blasted Shelby County Schools’ charter revocation and approval processes last year, ultimately approving one appeal. That cleared the way for the first charter school in Memphis overseen by the panel.

The state board will vote on the new appeals at its quarterly meeting Friday, Oct. 20. If the state board approves the appeals, the local board would have 30 days to decide whether to authorize the school or relinquish oversight to the state board.