Are Charter Schools a Cause of — or a Solution to — Segregation?

As two middle school girls lead a visitor around their school — describing its extracurriculars, teachers, and students with evident pride — one explains that although they live in different neighborhoods in New York City, “now we’re best friends!”

The girls both grin.

Such is the promise of Brooklyn Prospect Charter, which is using the model of school choice to break down neighborhood barriers and foster a more diverse student body.

But such an approach faces skeptics on both sides. On the one hand critics of charter schools say that far from advancing integration, they are a source of segregation. On the other hand, some advocates of school choice say that the model should stay focused on empowering parents and advancing student achievement — not integrating schools. Research on the issue is mixed, but past studies suggest that charter schools may exacerbate previously existing segregation within a district.

The new question in Brooklyn and beyond is whether integrated charter schools can successfully combine the benefits of parent choice with effective, high quality programs that would appeal to families of all backgrounds? If so, then they might manage something that has eluded much of the charter and traditional public school sector for decades — integration.

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