Ideas in Action: Coalition Encourages Diversity Among Charter Schools to Enhance Academics and Enrich Lives
Wednesday, May 30, 2018 | Safal Partners
Key Takeaway: Support helps charter school leaders create and sustain intentionally diverse schools through focused leadership training and outreach.
“Intentionality is a key common factor among our schools. We’re always working toward getting there.”
Ask any school member of the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition (DCSC) what it takes to create a school that reflects the diversity of the United States and you’ll hear a common theme, says executive director Sonia Park.
“You wouldn’t hear anyone say, ‘Yeah, we got it done,’” says Park. “It takes a 100 percent effort from our teachers, students, parents, state leaders. It’s a constant effort.”
It’s a lofty mission, but DCSC is poised to see it through. They’re working around-the-clock to “catalyze and support the creation of high-quality diverse public charter schools through strategic research, advocacy, membership activities, and outreach.” Since it was founded in 2014, DCSC’s membership has grown from 14 founding members to 44. They’re currently serving more than 100 charter schools and about 50,000 students.
“Schools should reflect the diversity of the country overall,” says Park. “It’s one of the things that’s always been a part of our mission.”
Specifically, DCSC aims to encourage diversity among America’s charter schools across race, socioeconomic status, language, and abilities. DCSC members take the mission a step further and aim to prepare students for higher education, “meaningful and sustainable work in a global economy, and an equal role in a more cohesive and connected participatory democracy.”
There is strong research to support the benefits of educating students in intentionally diverse schools. Students perform better academically when taught in diverse settings. According to a 2006 report, attending racially diverse schools is beneficial to all students and is associated with smaller test score gaps between students of different racial backgrounds—not because white student achievement declined, but rather that black and/or Hispanic achievement increased.
DCSC’s leaders say their call to encourage diversity among charter schools is deeply rooted in their personal beliefs. “It’s definitely coming from a personal feeling of, ‘This is what I think is right,’” Park says.
As Ashley Heard, the managing program director at DCSC, explains from personal experience in Baton Rouge, the lack of diversity in schools is still a major problem. “We’re really missing out on the benefits and opportunities of having people live and learn around each other.”
So, DCSC is making more opportunities for their members to do just that—to learn from each other.
“We’d like to continue to expand with as many schools as possible,” says Park.
In February 2018, DCSC introduced its School Launch Program, an initiative aimed at launching four new, intentionally diverse charter schools by 2020. The program emboldens charter school leaders to create and lead schools centered around diversity.
“We want them to be entrepreneurs and demonstrate the ability to lead diversity efforts in their schools,” says Heard.
There are two options for participating in the School Launch Program. Charter school leaders in the DCSC’s Explore Series participate in weekend sessions that introduce and explore the program. A more intense, 12-month fellowship program hosted at a DCSC member school is full-time and paid, culminating in the launch of a new intentionally diverse school. DCSC will soon welcome the inaugural class of fellows and kickoff the fellowship in July.
“We want [our fellows] to be entrepreneurs and critical thinkers, with the ability to start strong schools,” says Heard. “Someone who knows instructional best practices. In many cases, our applicants already have these qualities. They’re able to start strong schools.”
Future fellows will work with the DCSC host site leader to build out a strategic plan, from nailing down facilities to identifying the leadership skills they wish to develop. DCSC leaders plan to set up quarterly plans and bring in mentors for the fellows.
“The ability to share best practices and resources is a huge component of the program,” says Heard.
DCSC’s fellowship host school sites will aspire to be the blueprint for intentionally diverse schools, with the expectation their leaders are effective and inspire a collaborative culture. DCSC leaders believe this will lead to the ultimate goal of increased academic achievement for students.
Park says that overall, DCSC wants to be at the table when it comes to addressing and encouraging diversity in schools across the nation.
“It’s important for us to step up and talk about the work we’re doing,” says Park. “We’d like to continue to expand with as many schools.”
For more information on how to apply for DCSC’s Explore Series or express interest in becoming a member school, visit their website.
As we’ve explored in our work with the National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC), intentionally diverse schools have been proven to increase academic achievement, demonstrated through higher test scores, fewer dropouts, and higher graduation rates. We invite you to read a recent toolkit and watch a video case study we produced for the NCSRC, aimed at helping charter schools design and implement an intentionally diverse school.