One of the most niche parts of the education world is the intentionally diverse charter school. These are charter schools that are intended to serve a diverse group of kids and families.
Long an ad hoc group of schools scattered across the country, they are now a somewhat more official group of 100 schools and even have their own new executive director, Dianne Piché.
Formerly of the Citizen’s Committee on Civil Rights and the USDE’s Office of Civil Rights, Piché came on board a couple of months ago.
According to Piché, the group has schools in 14 states plus the District of Columbia, some of them part of networks (like the diverse charters run by Success Academy) and others standalone models (like Compass, a spinoff of sorts from Community Roots). “A lot of these schools have really organically come from people in communities,” said Piché. Some are well known, others, like Baltimore’s City Neighbors, may be new names to some.
As I wrote several years ago, they are extremely popular, growing fast (though still small in number) and extremely hard to operate successfully.
There are more schools out there that Piché hopes will join. “There really is a movement across the country for diverse schools,” she said in a recent phone interview. “Parents and teachers are looking for this kind of experience, and using charter laws to help provide it very exciting,” she said. “This is a part of the charter movement that has been underdeveloped.”
It’s frequently noted that white parents may be more focused on diversity than parents of color. In recent months, folks including Kaya Henderson, Chris Stewart, and Nikole Hannah-Jones have questioned the value of small-scale, voluntary diversity efforts such as these. Neerav Kingland recently warned that diverse charter advocates shouldn’t go overboard promoting the model as the single best kind of school.
Asked if the interest in diverse charters primarily comes from white families, Piché says “I haven’t seen any evidence that this is a primarily a movement of white parents.” She says that parents of all races are understanding that diversity is “a good thing that benefits children, and communities.”
Asked if diverse charters only exacerbate the problems of too many struggling neighborhood schools, Piché responds that this argument has a long history. “I’ve heard heard that used against magnet schools and choice provisions in NCLB and against charter schools,” says Piché. “Opponents will say parents [who pick a diverse charter] are leaving behind this dysfunctional school with students who have to stay there. But the alternative right now is that kids don’t have a choice. They’re assigned to neighborhood schools.”
One of the federal funding streams that diverse charters are making use of is the i3 grant. There are two divere scharters who are finalists in the latest round (Southern California’s Larchmont and a group of charters in New Orleans). Diverse charters also make use of the federal charter school startup funding, which now allows some weighting for student diversity as opposed to a pure lottery. However, only a fraction of charters get any funding. Piché compares federal charter funding to federal magnet funding. “It’s a ridiculously small program.”
The group is developing a new policy agenda, and encouraging more diverse charters to join. They’re also working on a study of weighted lotteries, and may be sending members to the 6th Annual Progressive Education Summit in Baltimore next month.
Slate: Brooklyn charter embarking on an ambitious experiment
Diverse Charters Form New National Alliance
A Smarter Charter
EdWeek (commentary): What Diverse Charter Schools Do Differently
Washington Post: As D.C. gentrifies, some charter schools aim to reach broader spectrum
Education Next: Diverse Charter Schools
WNYC: How One Brooklyn Charter School Integrates With Intention