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De Facto Segregation and Neighborhood Charter School (now ANCS)

Have ANCS's admissions policies resulted in de facto segregation?

If you have heard of charter schools, you have probably heard an explanation along these lines:

Charter schools are publicly funded, privately operated schools which are open to all public school students who apply. 

The order in which those applications are accepted, however, varies from school to school.  Some schools accept English Language Learners first, others set geographic preferences.  For example, the Success Academies in New York City first accept 20% English Language Learners, then give preference to students within the local school district.

In general, I do not find the use of geographic preferences problematic when the geographic boundaries are large enough to include a diverse community.  However, in the city of Atlanta, one charter school has drawn its geographic preferences narrowly, resulting in de facto segregation.  

The opened in August of 2001, moving into the closed Slaton Elementary School building.  The school's website states that the parents who founded the school "aspired to send their children to an urban public school with a diverse student population."  It also states that "ANCS is racially and economically diverse, serving a student population that is representative of the city of Atlanta."

Based on data collected by the State Department of Education, the second claim does not appear to be true.

The school is not economically diverse and its ethnic diversity has fallen year after year.  Last year, only 19% of Atlanta Public School's Kindergarteners were white, but 75% of ANCS's kindergarten class was white.  Last year, only 13% of the school's students qualified for free and reduced lunch programs while 75% of APS studnets qualified.  At the local traditional public school, , 67% of students qualified for free or reduced lunch programs and only 22% of it's kindergarteners were white. 

ANCS's rate of economic disadvantage is lower than all but two of APS's 107 schools.  The rate is lower than Brandon Elementary and Smith Elementary in Buckhead.  It is lower than Springdale Park which serves Midtown and Virginia Highland.  It is lower than which serves Inman Park, Candler Park, and Lake Claire.

This finding is particularly surprising when you consider that Neighborhood Charter School is located in a very diverse area of the city.  

Within a one-mile radius, homes are currently listed on GA MLS ranging in value from $16,900 to $425,000.  However, ANCS does not provide equal opportunities for entry to resident's in a radius of the school's campus.  Instead, it has drawn its own geographic boundaries, providing preference to the communities east of the school which are more affluent.

Ormewood Park residents drive two miles to reach the school.  Mechanicsville and Pittsburgh are closer to the school, but their children do not get a shot at the lottery until all of Ormewood Park's students have been accepted.  

In general, I am an unabashed supporter of charter schools and school choice.  However, when charter schools draw specific geographic preference lines, including affluent neighborhoods, but excluding equidistant poor communities, they result in de facto segregation.  That is unacceptable and regressive.

If ANCS wants to serve the neighborhood, I support that goal, but the "neighborhood" should include all the neighbors, not just those to the east who can afford expensive homes.

I urge the leaders of ANCS to amend the school's charter, expanding its geographic preference boundaries.  Without such a change the aspirations of school's founders to send their kids to a public school with a "diverse student population" will not be met.

For more local school analysis and commentary, vist my blog Grading Atlanta.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jarod Apperson July 14, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Anjin-san, yes, I am just a person, no better than anyone else.  The only reason you should listen to me is if, after some consideration, you see the points I'm making as valid. Thankfully, we live in a nation and a city where de jure segregation ended a long time ago.  However, our school populations are still largely determined by how much house you can afford.  It's not that people living in the ANCS or SPARK zones are malicious.  It's just a natural effect of zoning that good schools create demand and increase real estate prices.  That ultimately results in exclusion of those without the means to pay the higher prices.   In my view, charter schools give us a great opportunity to recreate to world of education as it should be.  I think that world is one where children's opportunities are not limited by where their parents can afford to live. I am just a person trying to persuade you that ANCS has an opportunity to untie real estate prices from education access that that is an important action to take.
Gigi Conner July 14, 2012 at 08:58 PM
One question - how do you define diversity?
Kimberly July 15, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Charter schools are meant to be a lot of things not just schools of choice. One of the core values of ANCS is a community school that is geographically designed.
David November 04, 2012 at 02:58 AM
No school, public or private, is open to everybody. Boundaries of many types exist - financial, legislative, locational. The great thing about charter schools is that if a neighborhood, or district, or group, wants one, they can start one! Go for it - do the very hard work! Just don't contemptuously come knocking on another neighborhood's successful door. That smacks of resentment, or unbridled idealism. After you have lived in this world long enough, and held down a job, and have been fortunate enough to start a family, you realize that you have to work very very hard to get your family into a neighborhood with good schools. Once you do this, the last thing you want is open enrollment to squelch your chances. I speak this as someone who has chosen to live in SE Atlanta over other neighborhoods (like Candler Park, or Morningside). I want to raise my kids in Ormewood Park. And I want them to be in Tier 1 for enrollment. The beautiful thing about ANCS is that it is a small, local, and successful option for families who want to live in this part of the city. There is absolutely no reason that the charter needs to be changed, nor is it likely that it will. You have to do the work to get the access - whether you are founding the school or attending it.
James Palmer March 07, 2013 at 01:50 PM
Chris, you have just managed, in one single comment, to completely articulate a position entirely in opposition to everything ANCS stands for. If you have a child that attends ANCS--and if you are at all active in the ANCS community, you obviously still have a lot to learn about their values and philosophy.

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