Q: “Did you see the numbers?” A: Yes, I have.

Is there a revolt inside the NAACP? Are charters segregated? Do African American have appreciably higher achievement in charters?

Tomorrow is statewide strike and a day of action for public education in California. There will likely be more than 2,000 people at the capitol advocating pending legislation that will provide more funding for public education and greater transparency and accountability for charter schools (AB 1505 and AB 1506).

Proponents and opponents of privately-managed charters schools also typically agree on the problematic disparities that are readily apparent when comparing African American children to those from other racial and ethnic backgrounds. Where the proponents and opponents diverge is what should be done about the disparities.

For example, there has been some noise about a “revolt” inside the NAACP in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) opinion piece[1]because of a leaked pro-charter resolution submitted to the national NAACP which was written by a California charter school lobbying association affiliate embedded in the San Diego NAACP branch. You should know that the resolution is dead and the national NAACP relayed in the WSJ that branches and individuals engaged in activities contrary to national policy can be disciplined.[2]

Additionally, charter school proponents have enlisted the Urban League and National Action Network (NAN) to publicly support charter schools in California— which of course is not news if you have been following the public debate. In a recent Black Voice article, a question was asked “Did you see the numbers?” which intimated that charter are desirable due to the data.[3]How about we take a look at the segregation, achievement, and financial impact of charters schools in California. Let’s see the numbers and research.


What is notable about African American student achievement in California in the CREDO’s Urban Charter School Study[4], is that both charter school students and sending neighborhood school students show negative growth for African American students across California in both math and reading. Please note that CREDO compares students instead of schools and also only compares charter students to sending school students— not all neighborhood public schools.

Table 2. Comparing Public and Charter School Students Achievement by California City

NPS Aver. Academic Growth for Students CS Aver. Academic Growth for Students Comparing CS Academic Performance to NPS
City Math Read Math Read Math Read
Bay Area CA -0.29 -0.30 -0.14 -0.18 -0.15 -0.12
Central CA -0.19 -0.13 -0.12 -0.05 -0.07 -0.08
South Bay CA -0.11 -0.11 -0.21 -0.07 0.10 -0.04
Southern CA -0.30 -0.21 -0.26 -0.19 -0.04 -0.02

Even with the limited (and selection biased?) sample of comparison neighborhood public schools, charter school students nearly perform statistically the same as neighborhood school students. The differences are in the hundredths of a standard deviation in Central California and Southern California and tenths of a standard deviation in Bay Area and South Bay. By comparison, other education policies such as class size reduction and high quality Pre-K show 400% more overall impact on student success than charter schools.[5]Considering the data, charter schools are not having the instant impact that proponents purport.


A new study entitled Choice without Inclusion?: Comparing the Intensity of Racial Segregation in Charters and Public Schools at the Local, State and National levels utilizes descriptive and inferential statistical analyses of publicly available Common Core of Data (CCD).[6] The new study finds higher segrega­tion levels in charters schools at the local level in California.

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Most California cities have a negative charter-public difference when comparing student attending intensely segregated (more than 90%) non-White schools. San Francisco has the most highly segregated charters schools in the state— 73.3% of students attend intensely segregated charters. By comparison, about 50% of neighborhood public schools students in San Francisco attend intensely segregated schools.

What explains the data showing that neighborhood public schools are slightly more segregated in Los Angeles? Orfield and Ee (2014) found[7] that the most segregated districts in California are located in the Los Angeles-Inland Empire Region – which explains why student attending charter schools in Los Angeles (1.6%), are only minimally less segregated than public schools.

The Cost for Neighborhood Public Schools

There is an increasing number of studies that show charters are draining away the resources of neighborhood public schools and directly leading to financial shortfalls. In fact, Milton Friedman, who first made school choice and market-based approaches and private-management of education prominent in the 1950s, explicitly stated that the goal of school choice was to abolish the neighborhood public school system. An In the Public Interest report entitled Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public Districts[8] found that:

Neighborhood public school students in three California school districts are bearing the cost of the unchecked expansion of privately managed charter schools. In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District. The California Charter School Act currently doesn’t allow school boards to consider how a proposed charter school may impact a district’s educational programs or fiscal health when weighing new charter applications.

This redirection of funds from neighborhood schools to neig pubschools was identified more than a decade ago by the NAACP as problematic.[9] In 2010, a national NAACP resolution stated,

Charter schools draw funding away from already underfunded traditional public schools…[the] NAACP rejects the emphasis on charter schools as the vanguard approach for the education of children, instead of focusing attention, funding, and policy advocacy on improving existing, low performing public schools and will work through local, state and federal legislative processes to ensure that all public schools are provided the necessary funding, support and autonomy necessary to educate all students

Legacy of Charter School Discrimination

Charter schools also have a documented legacy of discrimination in California. The ACLU report Unequal Access: How Some California Charter Schools Illegally Restrict Access found explicitly exclusionary policies in hundreds of California charter schools.[10] The ACLU concluded:

All across California, charter schools are implementing admissions policies that exclude students from enrolling. Like other public schools, charters must admit all students who wish to attend. By law, they may not discourage certain students from enrolling based on income, national origin, academic performance or other factors. These admission policies threaten to turn public schooling into a two-tier system where the students who need the most resources receive the fewest.

The ACLU followed up their original report and found that charters were continuing the practices even though the California Charters School Association (CCSA) had argued publicly that they were discouraging the practice.[11]

Public Advocates, a California civil rights organizations, also documented in a report entitled Charging for access: How California charter schools exclude vulnerable students by imposing illegal family work quotas[12], that charter schools in California were discriminating against low income students by requiring their parents to work for the school for free.

The Wasteful and Illegitimate Charter School Use of Taxpayer Funds in California

The Network for Public Education has conducted several investigations of charter schools in California. In the report Charters and Consequences, they found extensive evidence of financial malfeasance and poor performance:[13]

While most are brick and mortar schools, 20% of California’s charters are either online schools or schools where students drop by to pick up work. Such schools are often fronts for for-profit corporations. In general, their results are dismal. They do a poor job serving students who are at risk, and yet they are rapidly expanding in the state.

In 2019, the Network for Public Education released a report entitled Asleep at the Wheel[14] that found that 38% (N=297) of the charter schools in California that received grants from the federal government between 2006 and 2014 either closed within a year (N=237) or never opened (N=60). This resulted in a waste of approximately $100 million that could have been spent on Title I or other programs for low-income students.


Clearly, the vast majority of African Americans are unhappy with charters schools in California, as only 36% favor charter schools according to a 2019 poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California.[15]  So what should be done instead?

Proponents and opponents of privately-managed charter schools often agree on the persisting funding differentials between majority White district and majority minority districts. In fact, a recent study by the nonprofit EdBuild[16] found that predominately White school districts receive $23 billion more than predominately non-White district in the United States— an average of $2,200 per student. Wealthy districts have even grabbed 20% of the Title I funds that were meant for low-income districts.[17] These persisting disparities are important because recent economic research has shown that increases in funding to neighborhood public schools across time have huge benefits for student success. A groundbreaking Northwestern study[18] in 2016 found that that low-income children whose schools received a 10% increase in per pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school led to higher completion, 7% higher wages, and a reduction in the incidence of adult poverty. They also found that funding increases have a bigger, more pronounced positive impact for children from low-income families. What did the spending buy? The study found that better funding was associated with reductions in student-to-teacher ratios, increases in teacher salaries, and longer school years. As a result, the charter school conversation is detracting from the education reforms that are the most impactful for students.

The education policy discourse in the Trump and Obama eras has been focused on empowering schools choice while remaining silent about the purposeful inequality in financial resources that plague low-income schools in the United States. The latest research has identified the inequality and shown the positive impacts of properly funding schools. The problem is that the wealthy have improperly influenced the equalization mechanisms in each state and have stacked the deck against low-income districts, schools and students. We must substantially change the political conservation about education policy away from school choice to resource inequality if we are to offer a quality education to every student in the United States.






[6]This study will be published in the Journal of Educational Science in fall of 2019.





[11]The ACLU of Southern California (2017, April 24). Illegal admissions policies persist at some California charter schools following review. [Press Release]. Retrieved from: https://www.aclusocal.org/en/press-releases/illegal-admissions-policies-persist-some-california-charter-schools-following-review








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