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date: 27 February 2021

Urban Charter Schoolslocked

  • Manya WhitakerManya WhitakerColorado College


Urban charter schools are public schools located in major metropolitan areas with high population densities. The majority of urban charter school students identify as Black or Latinx and often live in under-resourced communities. Urban charter schools are touted as high-quality educational options in the school choice market, yet debates about the merits of charter schools versus traditional public schools yield mixed results that substantiate arguments on both sides of the political aisle.

However, even high-performing urban charter schools have a bad reputation as mechanisms of school segregation and cogs in the school-to-prison pipeline. Higher than average test scores and graduation and college enrollment rates do little to mollify those who complain about severe discipline, racial segregation, unqualified teachers, teacher attrition, rigid scheduling, and a narrow curriculum. Urban charter schools’ emphasis on standardized testing and college preparation may overlook the culturally relevant educational experiences that low-income, racially diverse students need to compete with their wealthier, White peers.

As such, education reformers have offered a myriad of suggestions to improve urban charter schools. Most prominently is the need to racially and economically desegregate urban charter schools to enhance the social and material resources that supplement students’ learning. This includes increasing teacher diversity, which research demonstrates minimizes the frequency of suspensions and expulsions of racial minority students. Urban charter school teachers should also be knowledgeable about the sociocultural landscape of the community in which their school exists so that they understand how students’ out of school lives affect their learning processes. Finally, curricular revisions are necessary to support students’ post-high school goals beyond college enrollment. Enacting such reforms would facilitate equitable, rather than equal, learning opportunities that may help narrow racial and economic achievement gaps in the United States.

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