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Yes, This Room is Too White: Understanding Why Race Matters in the Charter Movement


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Title: Yes, This Room is Too White: Understanding Why Race Matters in the Charter Movement

Yes, This Room is Too White Understanding Why
Race Matters in the Charter Movement
  • john a. powell
  • Director, Kirwan Institute for the
    Study of Race and Ethnicity
  • Williams Chair in Civil Rights Civil
    Liberties, Moritz College of Law
  • Presentation at the 2008 National Charter
    Schools Conference
  • New Orleans, LA
  • June 24, 2008

Presentation Overview
  • What is white privilege?
  • Understanding structural racialization
  • Why race matters in education
  • Why student diversity is important
  • Addressing teacher/staff/administrative diversity
    and cultural competency
  • How to create diverse schools
  • Schools should prepare students to be good
  • Clarifying the goals of the charter movement

What is White Privilege?

White Privilege and the Organization of Structures
  • Without critical examination, the system can
    appear to be just and fair, perhaps even neutral
    towards race.
  • Often unbeknownst to them, whites inherit and
    possess many benefits that are often
    unacknowledged and/or taken for granted.
  • Interestingly, the norm of whiteness is strong
    enough that the privilege of whiteness may not
    even be perceived by people of color.

Recognizing White Privilege
  • In my class and place, I did not see myself as a
    racist because I was taught to recognize racism
    only in individual acts of meanness by members of
    my group, never in invisible systems conferring
    unsought racial dominance on my group from
  • Peggy McIntosh White Privilege Unpacking the
    Invisible Knapsack

Defining White Privilege
  • White privilege refers to special advantages,
    rights, or unearned benefits that whites enjoy
    simply due to the color of their skin that other
    groups do not receive
  • A white person does not need to be a racist to
    benefit from white privilege
  • The recipient of white privilege may not even be
    aware that s/he received it
  • These privileges are passively acquired

A Few Manifestations of White Privilege
  • Spatial and residential segregation
  • The appearance, demeanor, and choices of a
    non-white being considered representative of
    his/her race
  • Minority students are less likely to be placed in
    advanced or accelerated classes
  • Flesh color Band-Aids are typically light beige
    in color, thus reflecting a norm of white skin

White Privilege and the Organization of Structures
  • "The reality is in every aspect of life --
    economic, social, political -- white people
    benefit from the way the system is organized and
    black people experience deficiency.
  • Paula Rothenberg, author of White Privilege
    Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism

Understanding Structural Racialization

Structural Racialization
  • Institutional racism shifts our focus from the
    motives of individual people to practices and
    procedures within an institution.
  • Structural racialization shifts attention from
    the single, intra-institutional setting to
    inter-institutional arrangements and

The Importance of Institutional Arrangements
Attribution of disparities
  • Dominant public paradigms explaining disparities
    bad apples
  • Defective culture
  • Individual faults
  • Personal racism
  • Overlooks policies and arrangementsdiseased
  • Structures
  • Institutions
  • Cumulative causation

Structural Racialization
  • It is often the interaction of institutions that
    generates racialized outcomes
  • Racialized structures are likely to disserve all
    in a democracy
  • Structural racialization analysis allows for a
    view of the cumulative effects of institutional
  • A systems approach

Contrasting Perspectives
SOURCE Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo (1997)
Cycle of Segregation
Challenges for Public Education
  • Economic segregation
  • Achievement gap
  • Discipline rates
  • Funding disparities
  • Graduation rates
  • Racial segregation

The Arrangement of Structures
  • How we arrange structures matters
  • The order of the structures
  • The timing of the interaction between them
  • The relationships that exist between them
  • We must be aware of how structures are arranged
    in order to fully understand social phenomena

Structures, Charter Schools, Choice
  • How structures are arranged affects charter
  • Charter schools have the advantage of being more
    flexible than traditional schools
  • Charter schools give parents a choice regarding
    their childs/childrens education
  • Choice is often thought of a private, but it is
    social in nature
  • Structural racialization can structure our choices

Overall Student Racial/Ethnic Composition
Charter schools 1998-1999
  • When comparing charter schools to public schools
  • Charter schools enrolled approximately 11 fewer
    white students (48 vs. 59)
  • Charter schools enrolled approximately 7 more
    black students (24 vs. 17)
  • Charter schools enrolled approximately 3 more
    Hispanic students (21 vs. 18)

Proportions of White and Minority Students
Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools
Program Final Report. U.S. Department of
Education. (2004) Page 23.
Charter Schools vs. Traditional Public Schools
Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools
Program Final Report. U.S. Department of
Education. (2004) Page 24.
Race/Ethnicity of Charter School Students
Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools
Program Final Report. U.S. Department of
Education. (2004) Appendix C-2.
Visual Representation of Data From Previous Slide
Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools
Program Final Report. U.S. Department of
Education. (2004) Page xv.
Reconsidering the Diversity Data
  • While the numbers from the national-level data
    seem to allude to the presence of diversity, it
    is important to analyze the data on more
    micro-levels as well.
  • In doing so, a slightly different story emerges

School District-Level Data
  • Has a student population that is 0-20 white -
  • Charter schools 27
  • The surrounding school district 10
  • Has a student population that is 81-100 white -
  • Charter schools 38
  • The surrounding school district 37
  • Nearly three times as many charter schools fall
    in the 0-20 white category compared to their
    home school districts.

Amy Stuart Wells, et al. Charter Schools and
Racial and Social Class Segregation Yet Another
Sorting Machine? (2000) study by Ascher et al.
Why Race Matters in EducationWhy Student
Diversity is Important

Understanding Race, Culture, Diversity
  • Race and culture are not the same and should not
    be considered such
  • We need to think about how we define diversity
  • In terms of race? Culture? Both?
  • In terms of the student population?
  • In terms of the teachers?

The Benefits of Racial Diversity in Education
  • Helps students avoid or overcome stereotypes by
    providing a range of experiences and viewpoints
  • Promotes cross-cultural understanding and helps
    students develop interpersonal skills for a
    multiracial world
  • Prepares students for a racially diverse
  • Trains and educates a diverse group of leaders
  • Contributes to better decision making on issues
    affecting our multicultural society
  • Fosters diversity among civic and business

Source Preserving Diversity in Higher
Education A Manual on Admissions Policies and
Procedures After the University of Michigan
Decisions. Compiled by the firms of Bingham
McCutcheon, Morrison Foerster, and Heller
Ehrman White McAuliffe. Equal Justice Society,
More Benefits of Diverse Educational Settings
  • Children in diverse educational settings are
  • more comfortable with people of other races as
  • better able to function in our multi-racial and
    multi-cultural world
  • potentially able to ease racial tensions as
    adults and help work for a democracy that
    embraces diversity
  • are important to the position of the United
    States in an era of globalization and global

Opting for Diversity
  • A Gallup poll in 1999 indicated that 59 of
    respondents thought we should do more to
    integrate schools. This number was only 37 in
  • In one poll of public school parents, results
    indicated that 67 would select a good diverse
    school over a outstanding homogenous school

Source Divided We Fail Coming Together through
Public School Choice (2002)
True Integration
  • True integration is creative and respects
    inter-group relations based on mutuality,
    equality and fairness
  • A truly integrated school must employ teaching
    and techniques that address the multitude of
    student learning styles and utilize materials
    fashioned by and about people of diverse racial
    and ethnic backgrounds
  • It is transformative rather than assimilative
  • It both transforms and enriches the mainstream
  • In contrast, desegregation, at best, attempts to
    assimilate minorities into the mainstream

Source powell, john a. A new Theory of
Integrated Education True Integration in School
Resegregation Must the South Turn Back? Ed. John
Charles Boger and Gary Orfield.
Why Race Matters in EducationWhy
Teacher/Staff/Administrative Diversity and
Cultural Competency Is Important

The Role of Teachers, Administrators, Staff
  • While research indicates that students thrive in
    diverse educational settings, the classroom
    experience is also affected by the instructor and
    other staff members at the school.
  • The diversity of these individuals and their
    cultural competency all play a role in shaping
    students educational environments.

Race/Ethnicity Charter School Teachers
Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools
Program Final Report. U.S. Department of
Education. (2004) page 26.
Race/Ethnicity Teachers at Charter School vs.
Traditional Public Schools
Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools
Program Final Report. U.S. Department of
Education. (2004) page 27.
Teacher Diversity Ohio Charter Schools
  • In 2004, 56 of charter school students were
    Black. The population of teachers in charter
    schools was 26 Black.
  • In comparison, public schools had a black student
    population of approximately 16. Only 6 of the
    teachers were Black.

Study Ohio's charter schools show alarming
teacher turnover. The Ohio State University.
University Relations, Media Relations. 6-30-2005.
Teacher Diversity Michigan Charter Schools
Distribution of Charter Schools Teachers/Staff by
Ethnicity Michigan (1998) (N728)
Source Whats Public About Charter Schools? By
Gary Miron and Christopher Nelson (2002), pg. 100
The Importance of Cultural Competency
  • Beyond simply having a diverse school staff, it
    is important that the teachers, administrators,
    and other school officials are culturally
  • A lack of cultural competency (as well as a lack
    of diversity) in teaching staff has been linked
  • Tracking students of color into lower ability
    classes/ special ed.
  • Unequal rates of discipline/ suspension for
    students of color (particularly black males)
  • What does it mean to be culturally competent?

Components of Cultural Competency
  • Awareness
  • An individuals own sense of their emotional,
    psychological, and behavioral responses to
  • Attitudes
  • Our personal biases, moral positions, and
    openness to differences
  • Knowledge
  • The concepts, skill requirements, and ethics
    associated with diversity training
  • Skills
  • The ability to act in ways that are culturally

Source Diversity Training University
International. http//
Characteristics of Culturally Competent Educators
and Schools
  • Foster a climate of inclusion and respect
  • Bridge academic material with students prior
    understanding, knowledge, native language, and
  • Consider culture a valued asset rather than a
    detriment to overcome
  • Classroom activities are often hands-on

Manifestations of Cultural Differences
  • Culturally competent educators need to be aware
    of the ways in which cultural differences can be
  • Ways of knowing/acquiring information
  • Ways of solving problems
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Learning styles
  • Techniques for addressing conflict
  • Use of symbols

Structural Racialization Cultural Competency
  • Structural racialization and cultural competency
  • No institution is 100 neutral
  • No cultural arrangement is neutral
  • We tend not to think of whiteness as a culture,
    but it is
  • Everyone is culturally situated
  • Cultures transmit values and are reflected in

Creating Diverse Schools

Reflecting Upon Desired Outcomes
  • What educational outcomes are charter schools
    trying to achieve? For what are we preparing
  • To graduate from high school?
  • To enter the workforce?
  • To attend college?
  • To be good citizens?
  • The future, including a future that encompasses a
    variety of cultures?
  • To be culturally fluent in a global society?
  • Are we using merit to measure what we say we

Reflecting Upon Desired Outcomes
  • If merit is based on what we value, what does the
    way we measure merit say about our values?
  • Do we value standardized test performance, or
  • Is individual success more important than group?
    Can both be achieved?
  • If we say we value diversity and democracy, then
    why are courses in civics rarely taught?

Aligning Schools to Reflect Our Values
  • What constitutes a good student?
  • Grades?
  • Career success?
  • The degree to which his/her future career is
    financially or emotionally rewarding?
  • Whether he/she gives back to his/her school
    and/or the greater community?
  • Schools need to be aligned to reflect our values

Transitioning from Individualistic Merit
  • The way merit is currently used is
  • This is problematic because cumulative
    disadvantage is based upon group identity - race.
  • Limitations of individualistic merit
  • Reinforces myth of the American dream (hard
    work ? success) stigmatizes those who do not
  • Marginalized groups do not benefit from a few
    members being given preference- need
    interventions that lift up group collectively

Introducing Democratic Merit
  • Rather than awarding past achievements,
    democratic merit invests in the democratic
    potential of individuals
  • Confer rewards to those who will create a more
    just, more democratic society
  • Multi-dimensional It involves the alignment of
    the doing of democracy with the creation of
    democratic citizens
  • Inclusive and diverse schools create bonds
    between individuals and the larger community that
    encourage democratic participation

Democratic Merit Aligns with the Goals of
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has identified an
    objective of public education to be the
    inculcation of fundamental values necessary for
    the maintenance of a democratic political
  • Preparing students for citizenship has been a
    stated goal of American education throughout
  • Instill fundamental values and transmit knowledge
    necessary to partake in our democracy
  • In 2002, the Supreme Court in Grutter
    acknowledged the importance of preparing students
    for citizenship

Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S.
675, 681 (1986) citing Ambach, 441 U.S. at 76-77
Transformational vs. Transactional Solutions
  • Transformative solutions begin with the
    assumption that causation is multiple, mutual,
    and cumulative
  • Transformational Institutions need to be
    rearranged to support individual and collective
    values of (mutuality, equity, and democracy)
  • vs. Transactional Institutions are arranged
    appropriately individuals just need to negotiate
    them better

Creating Truly Diverse Schools
  • Work toward transformative diversity
  • The work of creating a diverse institution does
    not end with a diverse student body
  • Harness the genuine benefits of diversity within
    and across the school
  • Teachers, administrators and staff must share
    diversity goals and be culturally competent
  • Teachers must have the skills and knowledge to
    create a safe, supportive, and inclusive space
  • Curriculum should be challenging, engaging, and
    culturally relevant

What can the charter movement do?
  • Seek clarity in terms of the charter movements
  • Why charter schools?
  • What are charter schools trying to achieve?
  • What is driving them?
  • Consider how charter schools are structured
  • Align structures with our values
  • Prepare students for a diverse world
  • Both build on and rescue students from their
  • Work to incentivize diversity
  • Make diversity more than just an aspiration or
    something to which we pay lip service

More Recommendations/Reflections
  • Create charter schools that are culturally
    competent, economically and racially diverse, and
    that are designed for excellence
  • Embrace the opportunity to move beyond the
    neighborhood segregation patterns that plague
    traditional schools and instead work toward true
  • Remember that structures matter and reflect our

Linked Fates Transformative Change
  • Our fates are linked, yet our fates have been
    socially constructed as disconnected (especially
    through the categories of class, race, gender,
  • We need socially constructed bridges to
    transform our society
  • Conceive of an individual as connected toinstead
    of isolated fromthy neighbor

Questions or Comments? For More Information
Visit Us
  • Academic performance of charter school students
  • Parental attitudes toward charter schools

Academic Performance Charter Schools vs.
Traditional Public Schools
Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools
Program Final Report. U.S. Department of
Education. (2004) page 55.
Parent Attitudes Toward Charter Schools
  • According to the Baseline Evaluation of
    Georgias Charter Schools Program Summary
    Report (2005-2006)
  • 70 of parents graded their childs charter
    school an A or A, and even parents who did not
    grade the school highly believed the charter
    school was the best available option for this
  • 85 of parents indicated they would re-enroll
    their children in their charter school the
    following year

Parent Attitudes Toward Charter Schools
  • According to a poll of 300 parents of New York
    charter school students (June 2003)
  • Percentage of parents satisfied with
  • Safety of schools 90
  • Parent-teacher relationships 87
  • Amount and quality of homework 86
  • Class size 85
  • Schools academic quality 84
  • Discipline 81
  • Communications from school personnel 81