NO EXCUSES: Charter Schools Should Never Be Allowed to Discriminate Against Any Group of Students
I’ve done two tours of duty for children in Texas. The first was in the Houston Independent School District’s Research and Accountability Department from 1999-2001. The second was as a faculty member in the University of Texas at Austin Educational Policy and Planning program from 2006-2014. As a result, I have roots in Texas and pay close attention to the developments in education poilcy there. I also volunteer my time for the Texas NAACP whenever they ask. Greg Worthington, one of my former doctoral students at UT-Austin, recently contacted me and asked if I would post a blog about no excuses charter schools that are invading San Antonio and the Texas charter school lobbyists that are wrongfully protecting them. Here are his thoughts.
In an interesting turn of events, the Texas Charter Schools Association’s (TCSA) Facebook page posted an article last Thursday, April 25th, praising a Texas charter school’s disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP) for its ability to give students a second chance, even calling it innovative. This is strange for all sorts of reasons but one reason specifically sticks out. Almost 2 months ago, Starlee Coleman, TCSA’s CEO, recently wrote commentary in opposition to Texas State Rep. Gina Hinojosa’s bill (HB 43) that sounded much like a Trumpian, fear-mongering demand for a wall in an attempt to mislead Texans about Rep. Hinojosa’s bill.
In her commentary, Ms. Coleman slandered a particular group of Texas children, portraying them as monsters by citing numbers on violent offenses, as if the bill in question would only impact students who’ve committed such acts. Her fear-mongering playbook mimics one that has been used throughout U.S. history to stoke racist fears towards people of color, such as in these two racist propaganda films: The Birth of a Nation and The Martyrs of the Alamo.
The TCSA CEO paired her fear-mongering with a compassionate call to properly educate these “violent” students by segregating them into DAEPs in separate facilities (and away from opportunities to harm the other children). However, Ms. Coleman points out that Texas charter schools just can’t afford these separate facilities (which don’t actually have to be off campus) and shouldn’t be “forced” to accept them onto their campuses and put other children in danger.
The problem with Ms. Coleman’s and TCSA’s opposition to bills like HB 43 that have been filed in the past is that they aren’t necessarily about facilities funding or DAEPs. Bills like HB 43 simply seek to strike Sec. 12.111.5(A) from the Texas Education Code. This part of the code allows charter schools to explicitly exclude any student “who has a documented history of a criminal offense, a juvenile court adjudication, or discipline problems.” This means that the 756,000+ Texas students (Ms. Coleman only mentioned 76,000 students) who received disciplinary action last school year are now eligible for legal exclusion from all Texas charter schools. These students are
- 75% black or Latinx,
- 77% impoverished,
- 71% labeled “at-risk,” and
- 14% of all Texas students.
Clearly, Ms. Coleman and TCSA are advocating for charter schools’ discriminatory power over not just students who’ve committed violent acts but any student who’s ever been officially punished anywhere for any perceived unfavorable behavior. This even includes students who were arrested on criminal charges but later had their charges dropped. Sadly, Ms. Coleman shamelessly showcases charter schools’ discriminatory power as a selling point and attempts to gaslight Texans by claiming charter schools’ discriminatory power is actually a good thing for all Texas students.
But this discrimination is a glaring example of why competition in education (i.e., school choice) should be abolished in our public school system. School choice forces schools to compete with each other like businesses and ties their survival to student performance. Research has demonstrated this pressure to compete encourages schools to create strategies for gaming enrollment systems so they can enroll “desirable” students to help ensure their survival.
Instead of discriminating, Ms. Coleman, the TCSA, and like-minded others should consider the fact that all students are teachable in the general classroom. But if any educator believes they aren’t capable of teaching all students, then they should choose another profession because allowing such perspectives in any classroom is a very real danger to our children.
The fact that all students are teachable in the general classroom was confirmed by my teaching experience. I taught in public schools Texas has neglected and short-changed for generations, where students with disciplinary histories are more likely to attend, and I taught students who’ve committed violent acts. Things weren’t perfect but I never had problems with violence in my classroom, nor were any of my students too afraid to learn because of another student in our classroom. By focusing on caring for students instead of declaring them to be threats, we can make our schools safer environments, conducive to the future success of all students and not just the ones you would rather teach.
If charter schools are as innovative as they once claimed, then they should be fully capable of fulfilling this forgotten promise by finding better ways to educate students with discipline, juvenile, or criminal histories. However, as seen here (and in research), most charters currently don’t claim to be innovative because the majority mimic instructional practices already existing in public schools nationwide.
Truthfully, alternative education programs, other disciplinary actions removing students from the classroom, and labeling children as problems or threats are practices that do real to harm students and hinder their learning. Fortunately, there are alternative practices that can move all students forward towards educational success, like positive behavioral interventions and supports, social and emotional learning, and restorative justice programs.
We don’t need business-like competition in our public school system that school choice induces, especially when it enables and incentivizes schools to discriminate against any particular group of students. However, while charter schools are still around, there’s no excuse why they should be allowed to discriminate against any group of students based on any perceived cost or benefit to the school.
Greg Worthington is a doctoral student at The University of Texas at Austin in the Educational Policy and Planning Program where he earned his Master’s degree in the same program. His current research focuses on school choice issues. Before this, Greg earned his Bachelor’s degree in mathematics at The University of Texas at San Antonio and then taught high school math in Edgewood and Northside ISDs at Memorial HS and John Jay HS, respectively, in his beloved hometown of San Antonio, Texas.