Issue Briefs

Can Charter Schools be used as a Tool for Diversity in Schools?

Can Charter Schools be used as a Tool for Diversity in Schools?

Deniz Karatas

May 23, 2018

On May 15, 2018 the Century Foundation convened an event on diversity in U.S. public schools and how to use charter schools as a tool for creating more racially and economically integrated schools. The purpose of the event was to present and discuss the findings of a research published by The Century Foundation on a growing number of intentionally diverse charter schools across the U.S. [1]

Racially, Economically Segregated Schools

We are in 2018, but unfortunately segregated schools remain a reality across the U.S. According to the research: “By many measures the U.S. public schools are more racially segregated now than they were in the 1970’s. Nationwide more than one-third of all Black and Latino students attend schools that are over 90% non-white. For white students these statistics are reversed: more than a third attend schools that are 90-100% white.”

Another shocking data from a 2017 analysis by the Associated Press is that 17% of charter schools have enrolment that is 99% non-white, compared to 4% in traditional public schools. No need to mention that public schools have also become more economically segregated in recent decades. The economic segregation between school districts rose 20% from 1990 to 2010.

New Research

Although the numbers are demoralizing, it is good to have mediator voices like the Century Foundation. Their new research emphasizes that, when designed with diversity in mind, charter schools can be a tool to help reverse these trends and give more students access to racially and socioeconomically diverse classrooms. And this is because charter schools have the freedom to choose education approaches that will appeal to families from different backgrounds, and even to enroll students from a broader geographic area. These can be effective strategies for creating integrated schools.

For years the Democrats have been defending public schooling as is, without really encouraging charter schools. On the other hand, Republicans have attached great importance to school choice. Not surprisingly Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos takes it to one step further and mentions in every occasion closing down public schools and privatization. The mediatory approach of the Century Foundation shows that these partisan efforts do not work, while there is another way to bring long-awaited change to schools, including greater diversity.

The possible solutions on the table

  • Parents and elected officials should demand a more diverse teaching force. Statistics show that diverse teachers increase the graduation rates of the students of their race/gender. For instance, today, only 2% of the teaching force is comprised of African American men. This should change. The Federal Government should also chip in and invest more in diversity in schools.
  • Bringing together families with diverse backgrounds at social occasions like barbeques, picnics, concerts, etc. These get together opportunities would help families of the students to mingle and get to know each other. It is assumed that these gatherings would foster empathy and sympathy among different ethnic groups.
  • Teacher autonomy and diversity in text books for classroom instruction are also important.
  • Innovative programs in STEM, coding, art, etc. in charter schools and redistricting public schools can also help them attract diverse students from a broader geographical area.

Although it is embarrassing to have to face the reality of unintentionally segregated schools in the U.S. in 2018, it is promising to have research institutions that are opening the floor for discussion in favor of diversity, and hear constructive ideas about creating more integrated schools.


[1] “Diverse by Design Charter Schools” The Century Foundation, Halley Potter and Kimberly Quick, 2018.

Deniz Karatas is the Executive Director of the Global Policy Institute. Karatas graduated with a Labor Economics undergraduate degree and graduate degree on Social Policy from Istanbul University. For seven years Karatas worked as the head of Social Policy Department of the leading lobby group Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD) in Istanbul, Turkey. Karatas took part in joint research projects of TUSIAD, collaborating with the World Bank, UN and OECD. She was a member of B20 (2015) Employment Working Group. She is experienced in advocacy, research, event organization, and fund raising. Her expertise areas are Education Policy and Philanthropy.   @DenizKaratash


The views and opinions expressed in this issue brief are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of GPI.