Income Gap and Charter Schools



Amy Wells’ Social Context of Charter Schools sheds much needed light on the ineffectiveness and underperforming so-called solution of Charter schools.  Particularly, with the recent report of charter schools serving far less disabled students than traditional public schools (TPS’s), her account of inequality and increased segregation of socioeconomic status (SES) and racial groups is all the more relevant to the conversation.

Her report on the growth of the Charter school movement is focused upon the widening income gap the country has suffered in the past 30 years.  It seems that the adage ‘the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer’ has not taken hold with the collective mind of the populace.  Instead, those who are poor or middle-class are living vicariously through the upper-elite, specifically the top 5% of wage earners in the country.  While this is not surprising, the reluctance to advance the status of poor by the poor is stagnant due to the glorification of the rich.  In the past 8 years, the poverty rate has increased by 15%, and all the gains that were made in the latter half of the 1990’s have been obliterated.

By 2009, 13.5 million children lived in poverty, a full 18% of American youth.  With the Great Recession, this number is surely out of date and much larger then previously.  Add to that, the working poor are unable to lift themselves out of poverty – not because of laziness but because the jobs they can get do not pay living wages.  These working poor have been removed from the welfare rolls, and have been forgotten, their children as well.  When looked through the filter of race, 25% of African American and 20% of Hispanic families are below the poverty line.  In comparison, only 13% of the total population is below poverty.  For clarity, there is a higher proportion of children living in poverty than adults.

Charter schools were developed with the aim to be an alternative for TPS’s by offering ‘customers’ choice and competition through per-pupil funding.  As Wells explains, there are two main problems with charter schools.  First, they segregate the population based on SES and race.  Second, they are no better than the TPS’s, and in many cases are worse.  Charter schools are comprised of racial and SES populations disparate to their district populations, meaning that there are higher concentrations of low-SES in certain charter schools than is the district norm.  This continues with higher concentrations of high-SES in other charter schools, in effect creating a barrier between classes.  The same occurs with race, with certain charter schools comprised of nearly all minority or all white students.

The old problem of integrating our schools for the benefit of all students has been forgotten, along with a vast minority of students.  This segregation still exists outside of charter schools, with white flight and minorities moving into urban centers, suburban schools are in separate districts than the urban schools, which disallows integration.  In this case charter schools are the bellwether, accelerating a process that began decades ago and amplifying its effects on students and families.  Without a certain amount of, for lack of a better term, affirmative action schools are only going to become more segregated and ineffective.

Thoughts? Ideas?

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