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Corporate-run charter schools show segregation patterns

Feb. 11, 2010

KALAMAZOO--A new study by researchers at Western Michigan University and two other institutions finds charter schools operated by corporations are segregated by race, income, disability and language.

The comprehensive examination of enrollment patterns in schools operated by education management organizations, or EMOs, finds those schools are substantially more segregated, and the strong segregative pattern found in 2001 was virtually unchanged through 2007.

The study was jointly released this week by the College of Education and Human Development at Western Michigan University, the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Read the full report
Schools Without Diversity

The new study, "Schools Without Diversity: Education Management Organizations, Charter Schools and the Demographic Stratification of the American School System," was written by Dr. Gary Miron, WMU professor of educational leadership, research and technology; Jessica Urschel, a WMU graduate research assistant; Elana Tornquist, a WMU research assistant; and William Mathis of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

"Given that educational equality, whether financial or programmatic, has not occurred in this nation, the perpetuation of educational policies that have the effect of further dividing society is troubling and calls for rectification," says Miron, the study's lead researcher.


  • Charter schools tended to be strongly concentrated in racial or ethnic terms--either more heavily populated with minority students or more heavily populated with white students--compared to the districts that send students to those schools. "Only one-fourth of the charter schools had a composition relatively similar to that of the sending district," according to the report.

  • The charter schools in the study draw their students from the extremes of family income, divided into either largely high-income or largely low-income populations. "Between 70 percent and 73 percent of the schools were in the extreme categories of the scale, depending on the comparison," the report states.

  • Most of the EMO-operated schools enrolled substantially fewer special education children than their home districts. At the same time a small number of charter schools focused almost exclusively on students with special needs.

  • More than half of these privately managed schools enrolled far fewer English language learners than did their home districts. About one-third of the schools had an ELL population similar to their district.


The EMO study is particularly important because the Obama administration has placed a great deal of faith in the scaling up of nonprofit EMOs, sometimes called charter management organizations or CMOs, as part of the administration's turnaround strategy. The findings of this new study suggest that these policies have the very real potential to be harmful to the nation's social and educational interests.

"Charter schools were originally intended to provide distinctive learning environments," Miron observes. "As it turns out, what is often most distinctive about charters is the composition of their student bodies."

The schools show evidence both of white flight and minority flight.

"Parents are selecting schools where their child will experience less diversity," Miron says.

For more information, call Dr. Gary Miron, WMU professor of educational leadership, research and technology, at (269) 599-7965. For a copy of the report, visit: http://epicpolicy.org/publication/schools-without-diversity.

To learn more about this and other reports prepared by the study group on EMOs at Western Michigan University, visit the group's Web site at wmich.edu/ed-management-orgs.

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Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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