Diversity Matters: Getting Public School Choice Right

By: Maria Salciccioli, Senior Policy Analyst

On May 15, Ruth Wattenberg (Ward 3 Representative) and I attended Diversity Matters: Getting Public School Choice Right. The event was sponsored by The Century Foundation (TCF) and hosted at the Newseum. The morning opened with the release of a new research report, National Snapshot of Charter Schools’ Integration Efforts. The research focused on “diverse-by-design” charter schools, meaning those with both a stated commitment to diversity and a diverse student body, defined as both socioeconomically diverse (30% – 70% of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch) and racially diverse (no more than 70% of any racial group). The researchers, Halley Potter and Kimberly Quick, identified 125 schools that met these criteria out of 5,692 they studied. In 100 districts that held these successful charter schools, common practices included:

• Redrawing boundaries (this included 40 of the 100)
• Weighted lotteries
• Intentional charter school locations
• Targeted outreach to families of underserved students
• Weighted pre-k lotteries, with opportunities for pre-k students to stay at the school in the years to come
• Magnet schools that pull from the entire district
• Transfer policies with preferences for low-income students

The researchers noted that 10% of the diverse-by-design schools were in rural areas, which was proof that these schools could be created anywhere. Four DC public charter schools made the cut: Capital City Public Charter School – Lower School, EL Haynes – Elementary School, EL Haynes – High School, and Elsie Whitlow Stokes. I strongly recommend taking a look at the report for anyone who’s interested.

After the report release, TCF held a panel on models of school choice as a tool for diversity. Stakeholders from two charter districts and the Chicago Board of Education spoke about the importance of inclusiveness in creating a welcoming, diverse charter environment.

 

After the first panel, we heard a keynote address from Dr. John B. King Jr., former Secretary of Education under the Obama Administration, who I had the opportunity to work for in my last role. He currently runs The Education Trust, and he spoke about creating supportive school environments for teachers of color and ensuring that diversity means equity instead of checking off a box.

 

The next panel asked panelists how to reap the benefits of diversity, and principals from diverse-by-design charter schools, a former Connecticut Department of Education representative, and the CEO of a charter network spoke about their experiences. They talked about working actively against racism; one strategy they suggested was inviting parents into schools and building community in partnership with them.

 

The next session, which I loved, was a conversation with Melissa Harris-Perry and Dr. Monique Morris, author of Pushout. The women talked about the non-academic factors that are necessary to student success, supporting black male students without excluding black female students, and the fact that teachers need to love their students and use their classrooms as spaces to fight against oppression. Dr. Morris echoed something our Student Advisory Committee members had said just the evening before – school uniforms are often used to police black girls’ bodies and are unequally enforced for them. The book was already on my to-read list, and I’m incredibly excited to dig into it soon.

 

TCF concluded the event with a panel on millennials in education, and the session ended on a positive note as participants heard from young, diverse charter school representatives from across the country.

 

The event was really meaningful, and I look forward to learning more about how we can increase the number of diverse-by-design charters in our city!

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