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Data and the Debate Over Diversity in Charters

The Mastery School is one of three schools in Minneapolis’ Harvest Network of Schools, set up to serve almost exclusively low-income African-American and East African students—some in single-gender programs like this one. “African-American families have significant needs,” explained Eric Mahmoud, the founder of Harvest. “Many of our children are walking around with hundreds of years of history saying they can’t [make it].”

Mahmoud believes a curriculum steeped in African history and culture is crucial to closing academic achievement gaps between poor black students and their wealthier, white peers.

He represents a school of thought in one of the most persistent and nebulous debates of the charter sector: whether there is a harmful lack of diversity in the publicly funded but independently run schools of choice.

It’s a debate that includes disputes over whether charter schools—untied to neighborhood boundaries—should be leveraged to help integrate public schools racially and socioeconomically, whether poor students benefit more from diverse classrooms, and whether charters are indeed less integrated than their district school counterparts.