The charter school model has been widely used to create school options for the most underserved children and communities. But now we’re seeing a growing interest from charter schools who are intentionally serving a balance of students who reflect the diversity of their larger community. Recent studies show that students from both low- and middle-income families benefit from diverse educational settings. Additionally, all students benefit from cross-racial and cross-cultural understanding as it lends to the decrease in bias and prejudice.
The National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) is one of many organizations that is currently looking at strategies charter schools are using to design and implement diversity models to serve a wide variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. They recently held a webinar and also released a toolkit, Intentionally Diverse Charter Schools, designed to help charter school leaders work diversity into their school models. These considerations are divided into four categories:
- Define, measure and share school diversity goals
- Attract diverse families
- Design processes to recruit and enroll diverse student body
- Create and maintain school culture that supports and values diversity
There are benefits to students from attending schools that aren’t separated by race or socioeconomic status, including:
- Academic improvements: higher test scores, higher graduation rates, fewer dropouts
- Behavioral benefits: greater homework completion, better attendance rates, fewer disciplinary actions
- Long-term benefits: increased college enrollment, employment and future earnings
As part of the webinar, Principal of VOICE, Frank Headley shared practices used by his school leaders to support inclusion of board members, teachers and families who come from diverse backgrounds. The diversity issue amongst public education teachers is also significant. The National Center for Education Statistics conducted a study on public school teacher demographics in 2011-2012 showing that the workforce is still 82% Caucasian:
VOICE’s enrollment tactics include using a lottery for student admission which helps keep students diverse. This is especially needed given the school’s location in Queens, New York, considered to be “one of the most diverse places on earth,” according to Headley. They also do additional recruitment in areas of high need, and make sure their staff reflects the diversity of the student body to promote inclusion.
“We know that at times students have brought up issues related to diversity and they will sometimes go to somebody who looks more like them and we want to have more opportunities for children to be able to do that,” says Headley.
Other recruitment strategies VOICE employs include:
- Continued outreach to historically black colleges and universities
- Emphasis on candidate recruitment within their own neighborhood and community
- Utilizing networks of diverse staff members
- Engaging in work with organizations focused specifically on recruiting educational professionals of color
- Reducing barriers to entry by building a diversity pipeline through entry-level position recruitment and growing them into teachers
Continual review and revision of these strategies is also important, and VOICE takes the time to review their processes and make changes to reduce potential biases. Involving parents also helps; VOICE’s Parent Association is a crucial part of pushing their diversity mission out to the community and creating events like the Parade of Nations to celebrate diversity. This event includes both parents and students dressing up in national costumes and preparing foods from 25-30 countries from around the world.
Dhamana Stamps is Dean of Students at DSST (formerly Denver School of Science and Technology), is a STEM public charter school with 12 schools on 7 campuses in the Denver area, which opened in 2010 after the community’s upset over the closure of local traditional district high school, Montbello. Today, DSST serves 527 students in grades 9-12. Their recruitment methods include holding school expos in the far northeast community as well as Denver, accepting applications through the School of Choice lottery, holding three open houses per year, and maintaining a presence on social media. They also give preference to students whose siblings have already enrolled at DSST.
Apart from recruitment, Stamps’ main concern is with building student community. DSST has this built into the school structure, including:
- Morning meeting: these happen four days/week with the goal of celebrating diversity, and are hosted by teachers, students, parents, and community leaders. They talk about sensitive topics but also celebrate school accomplishments
- Advisory: teachers serve as advisors and are the first point of contact for parents. Their goal is to provide a high level of support and accountability for every student
- Science and Tech Parent Group: a different admin attends these monthly meetings
- Raptor Rundown: monthly newsletter from the Advisor to families
For the sake of accountability, DSST also holds regular department-wide meetings for trainings and diversity updates and to discuss changes that need to be made to systems and structures. It helps them to have regular conversations around equity and inclusiveness.
This attention to inclusivity and accountability is paying off. DSST boasts 100% of their graduating students are accepted into four-year colleges. The school won the National Blue Ribbon Award in 2016, receiving the highest rating as a distinguished school on Denver Public Schools School Performance Framework, and got the highest ACT composite score in the State of Colorado. Stamps also attributes this to an emphasis on strong community and high expectations for every student.
“Not only is it an expectation for all students to achieve greatness, it’s also an expectation for all teachers and staff that we do whatever we can to support the success of our students,” Stamps said.
The key takeaway is that all charter school leaders can be intentional when designing and implementing diversity into their charter schools. Download slides from NCSC’s recent webinar for recommendations on best practices to design diversity into your charter school plan.