Charter Schools, Segregation, and Anxiety About Social Cohesion


A new book on charter schools and segregation, whose senior editor, Iris Rotberg, I first worked with in 1970 on the War on Poverty, has reminded me how tribally divided the policy research field has become. The book is worth reading as a step toward a still-needed non-tribal discussion of schooling for democracy.

Choosing Charters: Better Schools or More Segregation? (Rotberg and Glazer, 2018) is a collected volume with chapters by 24 authors and coauthors. Many of the concerns it raises—the narrowness of the population served by charter schools, limitations of “no excuses” schools, challenges of equity in admissions and discipline and special education, financial challenges to districts with big fixed cost structures, performance and equity problems of online charter schools—are well documented, clearly important, and the focus of a great deal of problem-solving and research within the charter community.

There is a lot good in the book. Some of the chapters are original, carefully argued, and nuanced, particularly Jeffrey Henig’s “Charter Schools in a Changing Political Landscape,” and Adam Gamoran and Christine Fernandez’ “Do Charter Schools Strengthen Education in High-Poverty Urban Districts?”