Too many charter schools are setting illegal admissions standards, whether that is 2%, as the California Charter Association reports or 20% as the ACLU of SoCal and Public Advocates report (full disclosure my first legal gig was at Public Advocates). Charter schools are public schools and need to have open admissions, so any number is too high.
The charter law promises open admissions to charters as the report states,
The state legislature made this principle clear in the California Charter Schools Act, which plainly requires charter schools to “admit all pupils who wish to attend.”1 In other words, except for limitations due to space, charter schools may not enact admissions requirements or other barriers to enrollment and must admit all students who apply, just as traditional public schools cannot turn away students.
The report outlined key types of policy violations, and provided a range of examples, where schools;
- Deny enrollment to students who do not have strong grades or test scores.
- Expel students who do not maintain strong grades or test scores.
- Deny enrollment to students who do not meet a minimum level of English proficiency.
- Select students based on onerous pre-enrollment requirements such as student or parent/guardian essays or interviews.
- Discourage or preclude immigrant students from attending by requiring parents/guardians or students to provide Social Security numbers or other citizenship information before enrollment
- Refuse to enroll students unless their parents/guardians volunteer or donate money to the school.
The California Charter Schools Association responded, agreeing that there were some problems to be fixed, but also noting some disagreements;
- CCSA believes the types of policies identified in the report have different levels of urgency in terms of their impact on students. The report found only 22 schools (approximately 2% of California’s total 1,228 charter schools) have academic policies that exclude low academic performers.
- We do not agree that all policies (e.g., essays, interviews or requests for student documentations) are per se discriminatory or exclusionary – there may be a perception of bias or discrimination, they may have been poorly drafted, but there is not necessarily evidence that they are intentional in their exclusion.
- Nearly 30% of the schools (70 out of 252 schools) identified in this report are non-autonomous charter schools, meaning they function as part of a district and under its control.
- Limiting the report to charter schools was a missed opportunity to provide the bigger context that all public schools, including district/traditional public schools, should be held to the standards that this report has applied to charter schools.
I think the answer on policies is somewhere in between, but I would also argue that even beyond policies, sometimes that actual practices of charters (and other schools) tend to exclude. I published a piece covering this earlier in the week on my own experiences, Bad Apples in Charter Admissions and What We Can Do. But I will just keep repeating, any number is too high, and I hope every charter goes home and checks its policies and trains its front line staff.
The stakes are huge here. For charters to claim comparability to district schools, they need to have fair admission policies and serve basically the same students. If not, its just not a fair comparison.
An Example in Alameda
Which brings me to my latest charter school discrimination story. I was out at one of my middle schools, and got a complaint that students applying to a charter in Alameda were required to pass algebra in 8th grade. I was looking forward to my-self righteous moment to call the school to blast them.
I looked up their website, sure enough, it was right there in black and white, beyond the lottery there was more
Proficiency in Algebra: ASTI does not offer Algebra 1. To be eligible for the lottery a student must have demonstrated proficiency in Algebra 1 through successful course completion (C- or better in a full year or full year equivalent Algebra 1 course).
Self-righteousness at its peak, I got ready to pick up the phone. these fools are gonna get it, and then I saw they were a district school.