Author: Larry Sand
Date: July 11, 2023
Affirmative action has done nothing for blacks, but charter schools can be a great help.
On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a university’s consideration of race in accepting students violates the U.S. Constitution. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, explains that the admissions processes at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The 6-3 decision saw the three liberal justices dissent.
In addition to being unconstitutional, affirmative action has not worked out well in the real world. Only 42% of black students nationally graduate college within six years, which is far below the 66% rate for white students.
As Jason Riley writes in City Journal, racial preferences are counterproductive. “They mismatch students with schools that recruit minorities for window dressing and then fail to graduate them in a timely manner or in the majors they initially wanted to pursue. Many bright black students who could have graduated from Xavier with a degree in engineering were instead lured to Duke, where they struggled academically, perhaps switched to a softer discipline, or simply flunked out. The upshot has been fewer black mathematicians, lawyers, and physicians than we would have had in the absence of race-based admissions.”
It’s worth noting that affirmative action was never meant to last forever. When the policy was first implemented in the 1960s, it was assumed that gaps in educational achievement between black and white Americans would eventually shrink, thereby rendering racial preferences unnecessary. Along these lines, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in 2003: “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”
Needless to say, the left was delirious and then some over the SCOTUS decision. Leading the wackadoodle parade was union boss Randi Weingarten, who has never been shy about wearing hysteria on her sleeve. “Make no mistake: Today’s draconian ruling by the Supreme Court is a catastrophic decision that will have dire outcomes for millions of Americans for decades to come. This decision ignores the original sin of this country—it’s a throwback to a cruel, racist past that admissions policies like this tried to repair. This decision doesn’t simply end affirmative action, it has huge consequences for public life far beyond higher education. Ignoring the facts before them, the majority pretends that both discrimination and the effects of discrimination simply do not exist and do not need to be tackled.”
Another jaw-dropping comment came from David Hinojosa, an attorney who argued in defense of affirmative action at the SCOTUS hearing. In an interview with the National Education Association, before the decision was announced, he was asked, “Whatever the ruling is, how do you think NEA members can help preserve and expand opportunities for students of color?”
Hinojosa responded, “First and foremost, they need to continue providing a great education to students in public schools.”
Therein lies the real problem. If students were actually receiving a “great education” in k-12, affirmative action or any other ploy to avoid using merit as a tool to get into college would not be necessary. And the greatest impediment to getting a great education is the teachers unions.
Said unions have been very successful at keeping incompetent teachers from being fired. Instead, inferior teachers simply move from school to school. The so-called “dance of the lemons” sees the lemons primarily dancing in inner-city schools. And importantly, the unions are front and center in trying to stop any kind of parental choice in education. But there, thankfully, the unions are beginning to lose their grip.
According to the EdChoice dashboard, as of April 23, there were 12 states with education savings accounts (ESAs), 26 voucher programs in 15 states, and 25 tax-credit scholarship programs in 21 states. And in May, ten states moved positively on school choice.
While the private option for parents is increasing at a great rate, what can they do if they don’t live in a state with a private choice law?
The main escape route then becomes charter schools, which are independently operated public schools of choice that aren’t shackled by the litany of rules and regs that traditional public schools (TPS) are encumbered by and, importantly, are rarely unionized. Unlike traditional unionized public schools, which constantly clamor for more money, if charters are failing, they are actually held accountable. Regularly, they must gain the approval of their authorizing body, and, most importantly, they must please their customers – children and their parents. If they don’t do a good job, they cease to exist. Additionally, charters must abide by all state and federal laws, civil rights statutes, safety rules, standard financial practices, etc. At this time, there are 3.7 million kids enrolled in 7,800 schools in 45 states and D.C.
How do students in charters fare compared to those in TPS?
In June, the results of a blockbuster study conducted by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO, were released. As described by Kevin Mahnken in The 74, the study focused “on charter school performance in 29 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and New York City, incorporating standardized test scores between 2015 and 2019. All told, over 80 percent of tested public school students were included in CREDO’s data set. More than 1.8 million charter students were each paired with a ‘virtual twin’ (i.e., a nearby pupil possessing similar demographic traits and prior test scores) enrolled at the district school that the charter student otherwise would have attended.”
Overall, charter school students experienced an additional 16 days of learning in reading and six days of learning in math compared to their TPS counterparts. Black students averaged 35 days more growth in reading and 29 days in math.
In New York State, charter students were 75 days ahead in reading and 73 days in math compared with their TPS peers. In Illinois, they were 40 days ahead in reading and 48 in math. In Washington State, 26 days ahead in reading and 39 in math.
Here in California, the results were also considerable, especially for charter management organizations. As EdSource’s John Fensterwald notes, when compared with similar students in district schools, “students in Los Angeles-based Alliance College-Ready Public Schools gained the equivalent of 107 days in additional learning, about 40% of a year. Students in Bay Area-based Rocketship Public Schools gained three-quarters of a year in additional learning days in math, based on CREDO’s methodology.”
The teacher union-orchestrated school shutdowns were a boon to charters. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a study that found that during the first full year of the pandemic in 2020-21, there was a 7% increase in charter enrollment (240,000 students) and a 3.5% decrease in public district enrollment (nearly 1.5 million students).
Of course, the teachers unions despise charters because, to a great degree, they are not unionized. But they won’t admit that. Instead, they and their toadies grouse that charters “siphon off millions” from “public schools.”
But as Fordham Institute president Mike Petrilli notes, this is a fallacy. In fact, he writes that a study shows that “host districts’ total revenues per pupil actually increased in most states as the percentage of local students who enrolled in charter schools rose. Certainly, that was the case in California, where a 10 percentage point increase in the percentage of students attending charter schools that were authorized by counties or the State Board of Education (after being rejected by the host district) was associated with a 5 percent increase in host districts’ total revenue per pupil and a 4 percent increase in their instructional spending per pupil.”
The unions also gripe that charter schools “cherry pick” their students. But this is also a lie. A study by Fordham Institute’s David Griffith examined the “relationship between ‘charter market share’ and the academic achievement of all students in a given community, including those in traditional public schools.” Griffith found that, in general, the district-level evidence suggests that the charter advantage is not attributable to “cherry-picking” or “creaming” the best students. He adds that “there is no evidence that charters have a negative effect on the performance of traditional public schools” and “expanding charter market share in black and Hispanic communities could dramatically reduce racial achievement gaps.”
SCOTUS made the right decision in killing off affirmative action. While educational problems still plague the country, there are fixes available. But first, we need to rein in teacher union power, which is a formidable obstacle.
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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.