When a Texas school falls short of Texas Education Agency standards three years in a row, the school can be shut down. Researchers at Children At Risk, a Houston-based education advocacy group, know the schools most at risk of being shut down have mostly black or Latino student bodies. So each year, they publish a study that aims to add more to the school-funding discussion. The group uses metrics similar to the state’s to assign letter grades — A through F — to school districts and charter schools throughout Texas.
In the Dallas area, about 16 percent of charter schools earned an F from Children At Risk, compared with 8 percent of traditional public schools. Statewide, charter schools and traditional schools fared better, earning roughly similar grades. This year’s report shows that black charter schools do the worst and have the highest chances of being shut down. The next most at-risk group is Latino charter schools.
Half of the charter schools that have populations with black-majority student bodies received F grades, and about 36 percent of black charter schools got D grades. Of the Latino-majority charter schools, 42 percent earned D's, and about 14 percent got F's. Of all the charter schools, including the majority-white charters, 11 percent got F's, and 21 percent received D's.
“I think the question that this raises for the state and for communities is how can we support this student population that seems to be getting left behind?” says Andy Canales from Children At Risk.
While black-majority schools are not common in Texas, when a school is majority black, the school’s marks are likely to be lower. At schools with majority-white populations, scores are usually higher, grabbing A’s or B’s.
Charter schools were set up in the mid-1990s to offer students a more focused and robust learning experience and to give parents and students more options. There are specialized programs and others such as dropout recovery and college preparation. Charter schools have grown increasingly popular since the ’90s. Today, the Texas Charter Schools Association says about a quarter-million Texans attend charter schools.
A spokesman for the association did not comment about the racial disparities among charter schools.
“That’s a very broad statement they’re putting out,” Phillip Ramati says of Children At Risk's assertion that black- and Latino-majority schools do worse. “Their reports don’t show the same statistics for traditional public schools.”
In an analysis of the Dallas-area regional school systems, Children At Risk asserts that white students are three times more likely to attend schools with high marks than black or Hispanic students.
“We’re always concerned when any of our schools underperform in any category,” Ramati says.