Diversity Dilemma in Action

A month ago, I wrote about the real diversity dilemma, not the faux trauma that Mike Petrilli is hawking. Happily, an illustrative example that’s been cooking along for a year or so just went back on the burner.

Novato charter supporters, opponents square off

I will recap the relevant points.

  1. Novato is part of Marin County, California. The white people there are rich, but not super-rich. No one in Novato says “I live in Marin”, as such a statement would mislead the audience as to the speaker’s financial status.
  2. Rancho Elementary is a Novato magnet school that takes kids from throughout the district, has a lottery, requires an onsite visit and other commitments from the parents.
  3. In 2011, after years of complaints from the other schools (more on that in a moment), the district alerts the parents to its decision to , convert Rancho to a district school, requiring it to draw primarily from the neighborhood students.
  4. The parents at Rancho respond by seeking to convert their school to a charter. They abandon the plan when the school administrators and teachers refuse to support the idea.
  5. In early 2012, the North Bay Educational Foundation is formed to petition the district for a new charter. Of the 365 parents signing the petition, 181 of them are Rancho parents. Another 75 are parents from the other seven elementary schools, a whole bunch are kindergartner parents eager to avoid their current district school, and some are private school parents.

Wow, you’re saying. Those Rancho parents must really, really like the lottery!

So here’s some other info. This story takes place in California. Raise your hand if you think the Hispanic population has increased dramatically over the last decade. Hey, you in the back, why is your hand still….oh, he’s asleep. Okay. Novato’s census indeed shows that Hispanic population has risen from 13 to 21% of the population.

Of course, the public school population will have an even higher population of Hispanic students than the overall population. California test results show that the district population is 30% Hispanic.

But then, the population of Hispanics isn’t evenly distributed, so let’s look at the individual elementary schools.
Using the CST results again:




Lu Sutton



Loma Verde









Pleasant Valley



San Ramon







Rancho has the lowest Hispanic population of all the elementary schools, and only Pleasant Valley has a similarly low population. The rest of the schools have five to eight times the Hispanic population.

Maybe Rancho is just located in an area with fewer Hispanics, so let’s check out the district map. Click to enlarge. (Source)

Ah. So the three L schools (Lynwood, Loma Verde, and Lu Sutton), which are all roughly 50% Hispanic, surround Rancho Elementary, just 6% Hispanic. Rancho, which doesn’t take neighborhood kids, relies on a lottery, gives preference to siblings, and requires a parental visit to the school and other commitments, is just 6% Hispanic, despite being smack dab in the middle of the Hispanic population center of Novato.

Totally coincidental, of course.

So Rancho parents, told that their school must draw students from its half Hispanic local population, seek first to convert their school to a charter and then, when denied this, seek to create a new charter.

The Mercury News article observes that only 11 ELL and 13 Hispanic students are represented on the charter petition. But not to worry, says the charter foundation,:

In responding to charges that the few minority names on the foundation’s petition reflect poorly on a diversity goal, the foundation said that it would embark on a vigorous outreach effort to attract students from throughout the community after the district approved it petition. The petition states, “The Academy will institute a recruitment program designed to educate and inform potential students and their families about its instructional program and to insure that all Novato residents are given an equal opportunity to enroll their children at the school.”

(emphasis mine)

Or, as I said in my first post:

Unlike low-achieving, majority URM charters, which are generally funded with billionaire grant money or for-profit charters, progressive charters are normally started by parents who are willing to fork out $10K or so apiece to get a charter school off the ground for their kids. Then, once they’ve got seed money, off they go in search of a reasonable amount of low income URM kids.

(emphasis mine for this piece)

Another irony rich moment: this op ed by Robert Verhoeff, the primary charter advocate, arguing that the chosen curriculum, Core Knowledge, will be just the ticket for Novato’s diverse population:

The school will be based on Core Knowledge — a rigorous, sequential curriculum rich in language arts, history, geography, math, science, art and music. The breadth of subjects taught each year far exceeds what is being taught in Novato elementary schools. Core Knowledge repeats subjects each year in an age appropriate way so knowledge builds or spirals. This encourages children to build cognitive connections between diverse subjects, while ensuring that rich, specific content provides a level playing field for students no matter their incoming cultural knowledge base.
….One of the primary reasons the founders of NBEF brought forth this petition was to address the achievement gap that exists in Novato public schools. Currently more than two thirds of white students in Novato elementary schools are proficient in language arts while only about one third of Latino and socio-economically disadvantaged students are proficient, according to the most recent state Department of Education reports.

Hahahahaha! Yes, indeed, Bob, the primary reason you brought this petition forward was to use this wonderful curriculum to help the Hispanic kids—that you fought like hell for three years to keep out of your school. Or, as I said in my essay:

And so the dilemma Petrilli and others write about involving both progressive charters and “gentrifying” public schools: how can white middle to upper class parents who can no longer afford to move to a homogeneous district sculpt the schools they want while minimizing the impact of the undesirable students? …Clearly, step one is for the parents to publicly congratulate themselves. They’re not avoiding diversity, they’re seeking it out!

So what did the district do to the charter parents? It denied their petition, citing the legal requirements that weren’t met. The district, of course, is lying. It denied their petition because it doesn’t want to lose money to a charter started by a few parents who are too cheap or too broke for private school, but the district isn’t allowed to say so.

What will the charter school pushers do? Go to the county, and then to the state. One of the two entities will override the district, because “a certain group of white taxpayer parents who win the lottery is trying to keep Hispanics to a minimum at the expense of all the other white taxpayer parents who lose the lottery” is not a legal reason to deny a charter application.

Or, as I put it here:

This kicks off a big hooha with the local school district. First, the charter will never be as “diverse” as the local school district. It will always run considerably behind in URMs. Then, the local school districts will accuse the charter of creaming just the motivated students, of URM attrition, of creating rules and expectations that are tough for the low-income (read Hispanic/black) parents to follow. Then there’s the yearly squabble as the local school district points out that the charters are pulling the public schools’ top achieving low income Hispanic/African American kids whilst leaving behind low incentive kids, special ed kids, English language learners, thus lowering the district school scores, while the charters congratulate themselves for their diversity, tolerance, humanity, generosity and high test scores. The local school district will often reject the charter’s extension, only to be overridden by lawsuits or the state. All done ostensibly in the name of good intentions and diversity, all done actually in the name of minimizing their own kids’ exposure to the lower achieving, poorly behaved low income blacks and Hispanics.

I invite you to read my description, and then go through the links I’ve included. To quote Mr. Potter, do I paint an accurate picture, or do I exaggerate?

When I last wrote about this, Steve Sailer commented on my site: “Personally, I’m in favor of taxpayers being able to arrange things so their children can attend public schools in cities and not have to flee to the exurbs.”

This is the pragmatist’s response (although this is happening primarily in the suburbs, not the cities). But it’s a short-sighted one because, as I point out above, it doesn’t benefit all taxpayers equally. It benefits the richest kids first, the ones whose parents can pony up seed money, and then the lucky kids who win the lottery. This is a small group. It won’t stop white flight to the exurbs. Suburban charters, if they are successful on a large scale, will be incredibly disruptive to the public school system. Which is, I suspect, exactly why eduformers have recently started pushing them hard.

Personally, I find it disgusting to allow a select group of parents to hijack taxpayer dollars for their own limited benefit, while they preen about their desire to help the brown folk. But I’m also well aware that suburban charters are only different in this respect in color, not intent. Majority URM charters are doing the same thing–using taxpayer dollars and billionaire philanthropy instead of parent seed money—but in these cases, all the kids are the same color.

I’ve said this before: charters are popular because they allow the owners to keep certain students out. All the talk about curricular freedom, non-union teachers, and dedication to achievement is garbage. Parents sign their kids up for charters to keep their kids away from the undesirables.

So let them do that, you say. But charters can’t possibly scale. This is so obvious that I can’t even be bothered to spell it out. You aren’t going to make me, are you? Charters “work”–that is, they are able to operate, not raise achievement—because non-charters have to take all the other kids by default, and have to do so without any say in the matter. When public schools don’t work by default, charters or no, the outcome is ugly, as this report on NYC’s all choice program reveals (and boy, is that system several lawsuits waiting to happen). We will never have a system in which all students everywhere are able to avoid undesirable students by going to a charter, and therefore we are creating a system in which students luck out on expensive, functionally private schools simply by lottery. It can’t last. I don’t know what will give first.

So what’s the solution? The answer depends on whether the undesirable kids are low income URM kids in a middle-class or higher (usually white) district, or horribly-behaved, low-incentive URM kids in a low income URM district.

For the first: bring back tracking, or ability grouping. Reassure white parents that their kids will be learning based on their ability, and then stare those parents down when their kids get slotted into the low ability groups. This approach, of course, leads to lawsuits. But remember, charters are just doing the same thing except on a smaller and wholly unfair scale. Tracking is cheaper and, if done properly, fairer.

For the second: start charters for low ability, low-incentive kids. Make these schools two steps up from jail or bootcamp. Kids who misbehave get expelled from their local school and sent to the charters, which are so ruthlessly strict and brutal that the kids would anything to get out and anything to avoid being put back in.

Unfortunately, eduformers will probably continue to pretend that all kids can achieve equally, that charters are a noble means of closing the achievement gap, and ignore the realities of the havoc they propose. Progressives and unions will continue to pretend that all kids can achieve equally, that money is all we need to close the achievement gap, and that tracking is racist.

It’s a crazy world.

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