Washington, D.C. school officials pushed back against a report published by the University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project claiming the city’s public and charter schools are among the most segregated in the country,
The Feb. 9 report said District public schools are characterized by both race and income. Its authors said 71 percent of black students attend “apartheid” public schools, those that have less than one percent white students.
The report also said the average black student attends a school where two-thirds of their classmates are in poverty.
According to the D.C. Public Schools website, for the 2015-16 school year, of the over 48,000 students who are enrolled, 64 percent are black, 18 percent are Hispanic and 13 percent are white. The website does not break down demographics by specific school.
While rates of segregation have decreased in the District since 1992, the report’s co-author Gary Orfield, co-director of the UCLA Civil Rights Project, criticized the pace of de-segregation in District schools.
Orfield said segregation limits how much students can achieve later in life.
“In 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King stood before the Washington Monument in his first national speech and called upon the country to implement the vision of equality in the Brown v. Board of Education, calling the ruling a ‘great beacon light of hope,’” Orfield wrote in a Feb. 9 press release. “Unfortunately, that vision remains unfulfilled. This report makes clear that substantial school desegregation was never achieved for black students.”
The report argues that District charter schools have the most extreme segregation in D.C, saying that at charter schools, 80 percent of students are black, compared to less than 5 percent of students who are Asian or Caucasian.
D.C. Public Charter School Board Executive Director Scott Pearson pushed back against charges of segregation in the District’s charter schools, saying that all families, regardless of race, are given opportunities to send their children to charter schools.
Pearson also praised the charter schools’ methods to become more diverse, such as providing free transportation from different parts of the city.
“Students from all racial, economic and geographic backgrounds are attending public charter schools throughout the city,” Pearson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We’re proud that our schools are becoming increasingly diverse.”
Orfield also criticized the District’s school voucher programs, saying they were ineffective in increasing diversity and often did not cover private schools’ tuition fees. D.C. is home to the nation’s first federally funded school voucher program.
The Scholarship for Opportunity and Results Act, provides vouchers to more than 1,100 low-income D.C., students to transfer from public schools to private schools. The program also provided federal funding to traditional public schools and public charter schools in the District.
“It’s clear that charters and vouchers have done little to reduce segregation in the D.C. schools,” Orfield wrote. “Given the proclamations of the Trump campaign and new Education Secretary Betsy Devos, a strong proponent of charter schools and vouchers, educators and policy leaders in the region may want to closely consider the effectiveness of those strategies.”
However, Orfield also noted that changing demographics in the city should reflect greater diversity in the school systems. He said that since 1980, the city has become diversified to the point where no ethnic group now has a majority, but the school system has lagged behind.
Orfield also noted “black flight” phenomena; black families moved in significant numbers from the city to the suburbs. From 1980 to 2010, the District’s black population fell 31 percent while the white population grew 35 percent, according to the report.
“As ‘black flight’ to the suburbs mushroomed, young, mostly white, professionals redeveloped and gentrified a growing list of neighborhoods, but these changes usually did not significantly diversify the schools,” Orfield wrote.
According to Orfield, the report’s methodology combines city census data on race with the racial composition of schools. However, opponents have argued that simply because there is greater diversity of people in the city does not mean that it translates into greater diversity in school-aged children.
DCPS Communications Specialist Janae Hinson said DCPS’s aim is to educate all students equally, regardless of the racial composition of schools.
Hinson said their commitment to quality education is the same for whoever they teach.
“D.C. Public Schools is proud to serve all students who walk through our doors, regardless of race, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression,” Hinson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We work to make sure that all students have a great teacher at the front of the classroom and are getting the same level of joy and rigor in our classrooms no matter the school or neighborhood.”
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