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Education & You: Analysis finds charter schools among nation's most segregated

Jamie Martines
| Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, 12:21 p.m.
In this Oct. 20, 2017, first-graders listen to teacher Dwane Davis at Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, a charter school in Milwaukee. Charter schools are among the nation's most segregated, an Associated Press analysis finds — an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)
In this Oct. 20, 2017, first-graders listen to teacher Dwane Davis at Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, a charter school in Milwaukee. Charter schools are among the nation's most segregated, an Associated Press analysis finds — an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)

After a short break, the TribLIVE Education Team is back for the final push to the end of the fall semester with a new weekly roundup format.

Be sure to send us your feedback and tell us what you want to see our team cover: schools@tribweb.com or 724-850-2867.

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INSIDE THE CLASSROOM: TribLIVE Reporter Jamie Martines visited Plum Borough High School this week, where students in the district's first Advanced Placement Computer Science class are not only learning to code, but also about how computer science overlaps with other fields such as business and medicine.

Advanced Placement Computer Science was piloted nationwide last school year, said Stephanie Reilly, computer science teacher at Plum. The course attracted 61 students this year — about a third are young women — and will culminate in both a test and project-based assessments.

Why it matters: Charter schools, segregation and achievement

An Associated Press report about charter schools, segregation and links to low achievement was the subject of criticism this week.

Here's what the report said:

"Charter schools are among the nation's most segregated, an Associated Press analysis finds — an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools.

"National enrollment data show that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation's 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.

"The problem: Those levels of segregation correspond with low achievement levels at schools of all kinds."

As Politico pointed out, the story touched a nerve among charter school advocates. Others criticized the story for asserting that charter schools are the driving force behind segregated schools.

The president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents public school teachers across the country, called the findings "damning."

About 7,000 of Allegheny County's approximately 145,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade students attend a brick-and-mortar charter school, according to Pennsylvania Department of Education data. With the exception of the Ketterer Charter School in Latrobe, which mainly serves adjudicated youth, there are no charter schools in Westmoreland County.

"There is no question that schools in Pittsburgh are extremely segregated, but blaming charter schools for the problem is disingenuous," said Rachel Amankulor, deputy director at the education advocacy group PennCAN. "The real culprit of school segregation is decades of white flight to nearly all-white suburban districts like Fox Chapel and Mt. Lebanon, as well as school boundary lines within the city of Pittsburgh that are determined by neighborhood."

Ana Meyers, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, also weighed in.

"Charter schools are simply matching the demographics of the areas that surround its schools. Many charter schools open in high poverty areas, where traditional public schools are low-performing and where there is a higher percentage of minorities," she said. "Charters reflect their location and community's housing patterns. There are similar demographic patterns to district schools in the same communities. Why isn't anyone talking about that? Segregation occurs when the government assigns you by race to inferior schools, which is clearly not the case with charter schools."

For more on charter schools:

Public Source and the Post-Gazette look at finances, accountability and achievement among Allegheny County charter schools.

• From WESA, the consequences of segregated charter schools, with a focus on Pittsburgh.

• How a charter school in New Orleans, a city struggling with segregation, is implementing an admissions strategy to make sure the school remains diverse, from The Hechinger Report.

Follow the TribLIVE Education Team on Twitter:

• Emily Balser, Valley News Dispatch: @emilybalser

• Deb Erdley, Greensburg: @deberdley_trib

• Natasha Lindstrom, Pittsburgh: @NewsNatasha

• Jamie Martines, Greensburg: @Jamie_Martines

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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