NC charter schools and segregation Archives - North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools

Report on NC School Segregation Features Outdated Data on Charters

By News

Shutterstock photo.

Released to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, a new report from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project offers a critical read-out on segregation in North Carolina’s public schools. The report, written by NC State researchers, presents charter schools as one of the forces fueling segregation and widening achievement gaps. But there’s a fundamental problem with that premise: Data used to support it are outdated and inaccurate.

Let’s start with a core argument about charter schools. On page 20, the authors write:

Charters in North Carolina have not only increased racial isolation between Black and White students, but have also widened the achievement gap between the two groups precisely because of the negative impacts on Black students in racially isolated schools.
What’s the basis for this statement? A study from Duke researcher Helen Ladd, which she and her co-author published 17 years ago–in 2007! That year, 98 charter schools operated in North Carolina, less than half of the 210 charter schools serving students today. In reality, robust, encouraging–and much more recent data–show charter schools are helping to narrow achievement gaps.

Stanford study: Charter students gain 16 days in reading and 6 days in math

A widely reported 2023 study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO)  revealed significant achievement gains for students attending public charter schools nationwide. Researchers evaluated learning outcomes in terms of days of learning–gained or lost, across the academic year. Compared to traditional public schools, charter schools advanced student learning by an average of 16 days in reading and 6 days in math. Charter schools were particularly effective in producing learning gains for Black and Hispanic students, students living in poverty, and English language learners, CREDO found. And charters run by CMOs (charter management organizations) produced even bigger gains than stand-alone charter schools–27 days in reading and 23 days in math.

North Carolina CMOs recognized as “gap-busting” schools

That’s the national picture. In North Carolina, several CMOs also earned national recognition as “gap-busting” schools. (Read more about CREDO’s findings here and here.)  Roger Bacon Academy (RBA)National Heritage Academies, and KIPP Eastern North Carolina were among the CMOs Stanford researchers commended for success in closing achievement gaps. Criteria for inclusion as a “gap-buster” were rigorous, requiring high performance for schools overall as well as for subgroups of disadvantaged students.

CREDO study findings prompted North Carolina Congresswoman Virginia Foxx to refer to charter schools as “conduits of opportunity.”

Other charter schools are earning accolades for success in closing achievement gaps. For instance, Sallie B. Howard School in Wilson, North Carolina–a majority non-white school and one of the state’s first charter schools–earned National Blue Ribbon recognition in 2021 from the U.S. Department of Education. The reason: SBHS is an “exemplary achievement gap-closing school.”

UCLA report: Wrong on weighted lotteries, too

Back to the UCLA report’s misguided claims: Authors also criticize slow uptake of weighted lotteries among North Carolina charter schools. Such lotteries enable school leaders to give an admission preference to students who are educationally disadvantaged. They’re a key way to help charter schools diversify their student populations.

On pages 20-21, as evidence of a lack of weighted lotteries in North Carolina, the authors of the UCLA study write:

In 2015, the state legislature passed HB 334, which authorized the voluntary use of a weighted lottery system that took diversity into account in admissions. This attempt was met with limited success as only four charter schools in the state implemented the system by the 2018 school year.

Limited success–and only four charter schools? As the widely available 2023 Annual Charter Schools Report notes, 70+ North Carolina charter schools–fully one-third of the state’s charters–have received approval to use weighted lotteries!

Here’s a summary from that annual report:

Over 70 charter schools are approved to utilize a weighted lottery. As more charter schools begin to implement a weighted lottery, the hope is to see more educationally disadvantaged students enrolling in charter schools. As part of the approval process, schools must explain how the needs of educationally disadvantaged students will be met. Many schools report an increase in staff, improved nutrition and transportation programs, as well as increased community outreach and partnerships.

In fact, increasing charter diversity through weighted lotteries has been a key focus of the state’s NC ACCESS Program, funded by federal Charter Schools Program grant dollars. The NC ACCESS annual review for 2022 is explicit in chronicling the explosive growth of weighted lotteries among the state’s charter schools as a way to remove barriers to enrollment.

Unfortunately, none of this information made it into the UCLA report.

It’s a shame that this new report includes outdated information about charters to support sweeping statements on a topic of such importance. Report claims will invariably make their way into news stories, which is how misinformation spreads.

*This post has been updated.