Search
Close this search box.
Now is the Time for Diverse Charter Schools

Now is the Time for Diverse Charter Schools

February 1, 2024

This blog post is from Sonia C. Park, executive director of Diverse Charter Schools Coalition.  

During COVID we saw a “great stall” in our nation’s education systems. Academic progress froze and even reversed for some students. Enrollment dropped, absenteeism increased, and schools lost students—just lost track of them. This drop-off and stall could equate to millions, if not billions, in lost economic activity and growth.

However, it isn’t all bad. There were bright spots and resilience that we as a nation should invest in further. 

One of those investments is charter schools. Charters demonstrated their stickiness and value-add to our country and society during COVID. Charter school enrollment is up versus that of their traditional district school peers. In 2020 6.8% of America’s students were served by charter schools, and in 2022 7.4% or 3.7 million students attend a charter school. In the most recent school year, from 2022 to 2023, charter school enrollment grew 2%, while district school enrollment remained flat. Support for charter schools is up across the board, in some cases quite dramatically. In an April of 2023 poll done by Democrats for Education Reform, 73% of Democrats were either strongly or somewhat favorable of charter schools. While Republicans hit 82% strongly and somewhat favorable. The same poll found charter school support amongst Latinos at 73%, Blacks at 70%, and Caucasians at 73%. Let’s take a look at state-level polling too. In May 2022 a poll of Michigan voters and families found that 54% of Democrats support charter schools (up from 46% in 2020) and 78.3% of Republicans support them (up from 75% in 2020).

Now is the time for philanthropy and policymakers to catch up with families and further support charter schools. Part of that investment is supporting the proliferation of diverse models that will bring more and more diverse students, families, and communities into the public charter school space. 

One public charter school model that has increasingly been seen over the past five years is the intentionally diverse charter school model. Diverse charter schools include a commitment to student diversity as part of their mission or design. In addition to diverse enrollment demographics, diverse schools often aim to ensure that:  

  • internal resources are allocated relatively;  
  • strong relationships are built between students, families, and staff;  
  • restorative justice is prioritized over traditional discipline methods;  
  • and teachers and staff reflect the diversity of the students they serve 
 

Though the educational program of diverse charter schools can differfrom Montessori to International Baccalaureate to dual language programsthe underlying DNA of these schools is a commitment to intentional integration. 

Anecdotally, diverse charter schools often embody the principles of keeping their communities at the center. Many of these schools open in historically segregated areas to try to integrate the schools and the communities where they are located. In these communities, diverse schools can bring families together, especially those that are living within the same neighborhoods, across lines of difference. As we’ve recently seen and experienced nationwide, this is still as important as ever. The ability to work, live, and understand each other—regardless of race, culture, or language—strengthens our society. Diverse learning environments develop cultural literacy, social empathy, compassion, and the capacity to tolerate, respect, and understand one another. In 1974, Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote in the dissent to the Milliken v. Bradley Supreme Court decision that “[u]nless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever begin to live together.”

The rise of diverse charter schools seeks to counter the trends in American public schools, which are more racially segregated now than in the 1980s. In fact, Black students in the US attended schools that were more segregated in 2016 than in 1988. Studies have shown that school segregation breeds social inequality, disparate access to society’s resources, and less acceptance of people who differ across multiple social identities. Obviously this is not great and has real implications for all students, especially because we know that in racially and socioeconomically diverse school settings, 

  • rates of poverty decline; 
  • academic achievement improves; 
  • achievement gaps decrease; 
  • college enrollment increases; 
  • 21st Century skills sharpen. 
 

So, the data supports that integration is indeed academically beneficial. 

Creating and sustaining diverse charter schools does take concerted efforts and making use of flexibility under charter school laws. Diversity can be achieved through deliberate efforts via recruitment, admissions policies, and school design. For example, in New York, charter schools can draw students from a wider area beyond traditional attendance zones, overcoming the structural impediment behind a significant cause of school segregation—housing segregation. 

Let’s look at Brooklyn Prospect Charter Schools and Central Queens Academy Charter School, both academically successful public charter schools in New York City, each with admissions waiting lists. We see racial/ethnic and socio-economically disadvantaged student populations similar to the demographics of their districts. These schools use guardrails in the form of admissions preferences to ensure their student populations are intentionally diverse and families do not have to choose between an excellent academic program and a fully integrated school. 

The national conversation about school integration and segregation primarily exists at the education policy and regulatory levels: how many schools are segregated? Are they more or less segregated than before? These are essential conversations but miss a critical ingredient: school-based proof points of excellence. As Daniel Kikuji Rubenstein, DCSC founding board chair and former CEO of Brooklyn Prospect, says: “Enrolling a diverse student body is step one. The harder work is having a diverse and successful program…. How do you seed and make that a fully integrated community where equity and inclusion are woven into the community?”

Looking at the trends emerging in education, the answer isn’t necessarily more or less choice; it’s the right public school choice for a particular community. Charter schools continue to show their value to families, educators, and their communities. More charter schools of various models (from culturally affirming to single gender to diverse) can be created to offer families the ability to choose from high-quality public school options. 

Sonia C. Park is executive director of Diverse Charter Schools Coalition (DCSC). The mission of DCSC is to catalyze and support the creation and expansion of high-quality, diverse-by-design public charter schools through strategic research, advocacy, membership activities, and outreach. DCSC’s membership has grown from 14 founding member schools and networks to more than 90. DCSC members collectively represent over 240 individual schools serving 100,000+ students in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

help us advocate for more charter schools & increased funding!
find a charter school near you on our interactive map!

Notice

You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website

trophy icon

Memorial Gifts

Contact Celia Hagerman at [email protected] or 202-600-8994.

trophy icon

Commemorative Gifts

Contact Celia Hagerman at [email protected] or 202-600-8994.

Notice

You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website

Notice

You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website

Notice

You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website

Notice

You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website

Notice

You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website

Notice

You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website

STAY INFORMED

Get the latest charter school updates straight to your inbox.

shapes icon

Wire Transfers

For questions regarding wire transfers, please email of call Celia Hagerman at [email protected] or 202-600-8994.

shapes icon

Gifts of Stock

For questions regarding stock, please email of call Celia Hagerman at [email protected] or 202-600-8994.

shapes icon

Matching Gifts

If you or your spouse work for a company that provides matching gifts, you can make an even bigger impact! To have your gift matched, you must submit your company’s completed matching gift form.

Please send all completed matching gift forms to:

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
800 Connecticut Ave. N.W. Suite 300
Washington, DC 20006.

If this donation will be potentially matched, please provide the company name.

Advocates Council

Contact Celia Hagerman at [email protected] or 202-600-8994.

calendar icon

Legacy Society

Contact Celia Hagerman at [email protected] or 202-600-8994 to learn more about the Legacy Society or for any other inquiries regarding planned giving.