- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Michigan schools remain as segregated as ever, despite the advent of charter school and school choice programs in the past decade, according to a study by education researchers at Michigan State University.

The number of Michigan schools considered racially segregated — defined as those where at least 80 percent of students are black — increased to 431, nearly half the schools in the state.

The MSU study attributed most of this increase to more openings of charter schools.

The research closely mirrors enrollment figures from 1993, when the state passed its first charter school law, and echoes findings from a Harvard University Civil Rights Project report that dubbed Michigan schools the most segregated in the nation.

“It is profoundly discouraging to learn that the share of African-American kids attending segregated schools has barely changed in the last decade since school choice policies were adopted in Michigan,” says David Plank, co-director of MSU’s Education Policy Center, who conducted the study. “We should all be concerned about the kind of society we are creating, in which more than half of African-American students in Michigan go to schools in which virtually none of their classmates are not also African-American.”

Close to 75 percent of black students who attend charter schools in Michigan attend schools that the study classified as segregated. The state’s 216 charter schools remain popular with parents, however, with more than 82,000 students enrolled and an estimated 10,000 on waiting lists, particularly in urban areas such as Flint and Detroit.

Nationwide, 27 percent of students in charter schools were black, compared with about 17 percent in traditional public schools, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Charter school proponents, including Harrison Blackmond, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) chapter in Detroit, say the issue should be less about segregation and more about parents having a viable choice where their children attend classes.

“I think the issue really is about the lack of education that parents are receiving in the traditional public schools in urban areas,” said Mr. Blackmond, a sharecropper’s son and lawyer who once represented the state’s teachers union but is now a strong advocate of school choice.

“What is happening is that parents are leaving the public schools in droves trying to find quality education options for children wherever they can find them and wherever they can afford them,” he said. “Charter schools represent the only viable option at this point.”

The “segregation” in Michigan schools reported by MSU and other researchers, says Mr. Blackmond, “has everything to do with housing patterns and this phenomenon that when black people move into a community, white people move out. That really isn’t about schools, but ultimately the schools end up being impacted by that phenomenon.”

MSU’s Mr. Plank says the focus for Michigan should remain on educational progress.

“The state should be much more concerned about the kids who are attending racially isolated schools, many of which are also characterized by intensely concentrated poverty,” he said. “These kids are being ‘left behind’ in every possible way: Their schools are far less likely to make [adequate yearly progress] than other schools, and they are far less likely to perform at grade level on standardized tests, graduate from high school or go to college than other Michigan students.”

The Washington-based Center for Education Reform reported in 2003 that Michigan charter schools showed gains greater than the state average in all but one of 10 grade levels and subjects on the Michigan Assessment of Educational Progress test.

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