Myron Orfield, Director, Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity
The Civic Caucus
8301 Creekside Circle #920, Bloomington, MN 55437
October 5, 2012
Notes of the Discussion
Dave Broden, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Rick Dornfeld, Sallie Kemper, Dan
Loritz (vice chair), Walt McClure, Clarence Shallbetter.
Summary of Discussion:
Charter schools have often promised innovative
solutions to the problems that plague the public school system. Myron
Orfield argues that charter schools in the Twin Cities have aggravated
racial segregation, while failing to deliver academic improvements for
students. Orfield provides several proposals to reduce this segregation
and enhance the quality of education received by Twin Cities' public
Introduction of the Speaker.
Myron Orfield is the Director of the
Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, a non-resident senior fellow at the
Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and an affiliate faculty member
at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
He teaches and writes in the fields of civil
rights, state and local government, state and local finance, land use,
questions of regional governance, and the legislative process.
Orfield graduated, summa cum laude, from the
University of Minnesota, was a graduate student at Princeton University,
and has a J.D. from the University of Chicago, where he was a member of
the University of Chicago Law Review. Following law school, he clerked for
the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and then returned
to the University of Chicago Law School as a Research Associate and
Bradley Fellow at the Center for Studies in Criminal Justice. After
working as an associate at Faegre & Benson (now Faegre Baker Daniels) in
Minneapolis, he served as a Special Assistant Attorney General of
Minnesota in the Solicitor General's Division.
In 1990, Orfield was elected to the Minnesota
House of Representatives, where he served five terms, and to the Minnesota
Senate in 2000, where he served one term.
Twin Cities' charter
schools are failing to improve academic outcomes, while driving increased
Charter schools unhindered by the oversight
and regulation of traditional districted public schools were hailed as
part of the solution to the problems facing the American education system.
With fewer restrictions, charter schools are supposed to provide the
necessary innovation to address low performance, achievement gaps, and
unmet specialized educational needs.
However, Myron Orfield, co-author of a
recently updated study:
"I don't oppose the principal of charter
schools, but I have found problems with the way they have been
administered by the State of Minnesota," said Orfield.
One of the biggest problems Orfield finds is that charter schools
currently are exempt from state civil rights laws allowing the development
of single race or ethnic group schools. Though these schools promise
improved educational outcomes for students there is little evidence that
supports this claim.
Charter schools further have siphoned
resources from traditional public schools. To compete for market share,
school districts have sought and received state approval to develop their
own single race public schools that cater to a particular racial or ethnic
group. The Minneapolis Public School District, for instance, would like to
create its own network of single race charter schools. Most of the single
race, non-white public schools and the single race, non-white charters are
among the lowest performing schools in the state. The development of
predominately white charter schools over the past decade has further
aggravated the racial segregation in the school system. Orfield's study
found that "In 2000-01, white charter students were actually less likely
to be in a predominantly white school than their traditional
counterparts-56 percent compared to 81 percent. However, by 2010-11, the
share of white charter students in predominantly white schools had risen
to 74 percent while it declined to 57 percent in traditional schools"
(2012, 3). These white charters most often are formed in racially diverse
suburban school areas where white families want to flee from non-white
students. The loss of white students in these areas has caused public
schools to draw school boundaries to create whiter public schools to
compete for students with the white charters for enrollment. In this way
the charters' segregated attendance has pushed the public schools into
even greater segregation to compete with the charters for enrollment.
"Charter schools have proliferated and sadly
they haven't done better," said Orfield. "They have done worse and they
have driven the public [districted] schools into lower achievement."
According to Orfield, the number of
segregated schools has grown exponentially since 1995, which has gutted
the public districted schools financially. The exact number of non-white
segregated charter and districted public schools in the Twin Cities has
increased from near zero in the early 1990s to more than 100 in 2011.
Districted public schools outperform their
"At a given rate of poverty public
[districted] schools outperform their charter counterparts," said Orfield.
"A few charter schools do outperform the mean and they get all the
Orfield's study reports that charter schools
have "proficiency rates that are 7.5 percentage points lower for math and
4.4 percentage points lower for reading in charter elementary schools than
in traditional elementary schools" after controlling for student poverty,
race, special education needs, limited language abilities, student
mobility rates and school size (2012, 7).
Despite poor performance charter schools are
difficult to close because they often develop powerful constituencies.
Orfield finds that charter schools hire members of the community creating
perverse incentives for keeping a school open.
For those charter schools that do show rapid
improvement in student academic performance, Orfield questions whether or
not those gains are real because they do not tend to last for more than
three or four years.He also has found little evidence that non-white
charter school students are going to college-further undermining claims
that these schools are improving education outcomes.
Solution:Increase charter school oversight, carefully
place subsidized housing, and develop districted schools that better cater
to student needs.
"We have an achievement gap," said Orfield.
"And evidence suggests that best way to close it is through racial
integration and systematic efforts within that environment."
Better oversight and compliance with civic
rights laws are essential.
Orfield argues the charter schools should be
required to comply with the same civil rights laws as districted public
schools. Orfield also argues for the implementation of a rule requiring
metropolitan-wide desegregation based on a proposal by former Minnesota
Governor Arne Carlson's state board of education. He also believes that
$83 million in integration aid provided by the state should be used to
incent schools to meet desegregation goals.
According to Orfield, "the empirical
literature shows that, all else equal, integrated schools contribute to
higher test scores, lower drop-out rates, higher college attendance rates
and greater earnings later in life for students. Integrated magnets
schools in poor neighborhoods can help to strengthen the housing markets
in those neighborhoods" (2012, 8). Orfield further argues that getting
lower-income kids into middle-income schools improves life outcomes and
enriches the experiences of all students. Parental success is the greatest
predictor of a child's educational and economic success, while the second
biggest predictor is the background of an individual's peer group. Orfield
argues we can improve student educational outcomes by ensuring all
students attend economically and racially diverse schools.
"Low-income kids who attend racially
integrated schools are much more likely to go to college and to find jobs
with middle income salaries than those who attend segregated schools,"
Despite the powerful role of education and
segregation on life outcomes many underperforming charter schools wield a
great deal of influence making them difficult to close. Orfield proposes
instituting a policy of automatically closing any charter school that
underperforms its districted public school peers for more than two years.
This policy would better serve students and schools by eliminating the
worse performing charters and freeing up resources for other public
Subsidized housing should decrease segregation,
not aggravate it..
Orfield has found that 85% of the Twin
Cities' subsidized housing is built in region's poorest neighborhoods or
in parts of the suburbs where the schools are losing their white students.
From 1970 to 1986, the Metropolitan Council enforced Housing Policy 1339
requiring that any new community that wanted roads and sewers had to build
its fair share of subsidized housing. As a result during this period 70%
of subsidized housing was being built in the whitest parts of suburbia.
Without this policy, 85% of subsidized housing is being concentrated in
already impoverished or racially transitioning neighborhoods, which has
the added effect of increasing school segregation.
"We are gaining deeply segregated
neighborhoods and charter schools are making that worse than it would have
been in their absence," said Orfield.
Orfield believes that the placement of 12,000
well-placed units of subsidized housing could eliminate public school
segregation by 2025. As an added incentive for Minnesota policymakers to
mandate subsidize housing policies that lead to integration, Orfield
points to the cities of Detroit and Cleveland as examples of urban areas
that have failed to integrate their regions.
"The segregated places like Detroit and
Cleveland are dying. They have huge immobile workforces that are products
of segregated city schools," said Orfield. "Much of this population is
unskilled and unable to respond to the needs of the economy."
These populations are unable to move to other
areas of the United States with greater economic opportunity because they
are poorly educated. According to Orfield, the Twin Cities currently are
developing a large number of highly segregated schools like those found in
Open new districted schools that cater to
Orfield believes that new magnet districted
public schools (probably math and science themed) should be opened in the
core cities near job centers. By design these schools would attract
middle-income suburban students to help strengthen the educational
performance of core city schools, while enriching the experience for both
groups of students.
"We should build really good magnet schools
near job centers that fit the needs both of children of in-commuters and
those living in nearby neighborhoods," said Orfield.
Some schools like this already exist in the
Twin Cities such as South High School and Clara Barton Open School in
Minneapolis and Central High School and Capitol Hill Magnet School in
Conclusion: Education innovation shouldn't come at the cost of increased
Orfield believes that Minnesota could do a
better job of educating students in Twin Cities' area (particularly in the
core cities) at lower cost by integrating Minneapolis and Saint Paul with
"Wake County, North Carolina and Louisville,
Kentucky have had integrated schools for 40 years, and Wake County in
particular has some of the best results on closing the achievement gap,"
said Orfield. "They have strong support for their programs of integration
from the business community and they have more kids going to college."
According to Orfield, neither of these two
metropolitan areas have extensive charter school systems that compete with
districted public schools. In both of these cities metropolitan-wide
integration did not impact the quality of education received by suburban
students, while dramatically increasing it for urban students.
"We could do a better job with less money if
we moved to an integrated system like Raleigh or Louisville," said Orfield.
"We could cut the achievement gap dramatically and substantially increase
the graduation rate of non-white students."
The Civic Caucus
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Verne C. Johnson, chair; David Broden,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Marina Lyon,
Joe Mansky, John Mooty, Jim Olson,
and Wayne Popham