Segregation and Desegregation, TUSD Schools and Tucson Charter Schools

Segregation and desegregation in Tucson schools has become such a hot topic recently, I decided to do a little research to see how the ethnic and racial numbers break down in TUSD schools. As I looked over the numbers, I began to be curious about what they look like in Tucson's charter schools as well. I've read often that charters tend to be more segregated than district schools, and I wanted to see if that was true here. I found that all the data I needed is on the Arizona Department of Education and TUSD websites.

I gathered together enrollment stats on 75 charters in Tucson—I believe it's a fairly complete list of the city's charter schools—using information from the Arizona Department of Education website. Then I did the same with the 85 TUSD schools listed in the enrollment stats on TUSD's website. TUSD keeps its enrollment information current, compiling each school's ethnic and racial composition on a daily basis, but the most recent numbers I could find for charters is from October, 2014, so I used the same date for TUSD to create an accurate comparison.  

Of Tucson students in publicly funded schools (I didn't include private schools in my research), 73 percent are in TUSD schools and 27 percent are in charter schools. Hispanics make up 61 percent of the total student population, 25 percent are Anglo and the remaining 14 percent are divided among African American, Native American, Asian American and Multi-Racial students.

Here is a graph showing the overall ethnic and racial compositions in TUSD and Tuscon's charter schools.

There's a large difference between student populations in TUSD and in Tucson charter schools. Charters have 11 percent fewer Hispanic student and 16 percent more Anglo students than TUSD. Though the numbers of other students are far smaller, it's clear that African American, Native American and Multi-Racial students are underrepresented at charters compared to TUSD—there's a consistent one-to-two ratio—while Asian American are slightly overrepresented at charters.

The numbers indicate there's a significant white (and Asian) flight from TUSD schools to charters, which indicates that charter schools are more segregated than TUSD schools. But the difference may be greater or smaller than the numbers imply. After all, students attend a variety of schools with unique ethnic and racial mixes, not the TUSD school district or charter schools as a whole. So my next question is, what are the ethnic and racial compositions of the schools students attend?

The chart below shows the percentage of students in TUSD and Tucson charter schools who attend schools with various ethnic and racial compositions. 

I used a 60 percent Hispanic student composition as the mid point for the chart since that's the city average, then I moved out from there to greater or lesser concentrations of Hispanic students. A 50 to 70 percent Hispanic population seems like the sweet spot to me since it's plus or minus 10 percent of the city average. I would consider those schools to be fairly well integrated. In either direction from the 50 to 70 percent range, students are increasingly segregated, with either a disproportionate number of Hispanic or Anglo students.

The chart shows that TUSD and charter schools have dramatically different distributions of Hispanic and Anglo students, more so than their overall ethnic and racial makeup suggests. The most striking difference is in the number attending schools with 30 percent or fewer Hispanic students. For charters, it's over a third of the students—35 percent. For TUSD, it's 2 percent. On the other end of the scale, TUSD has significantly more students in schools with 80 percent or more Hispanic students than charters—28 percent compared to 18 percent. In the other categories between those two extremes, TUSD and charter schools have reasonably wide variations except in the 50 to 70 percent range where they're within 3 percent.

The numbers on the graph can be mixed, matched and interpreted in a variety of ways, but the clearest conclusion is that many charter schools have very segregated Anglo populations, indicating that the white flight from TUSD is very often toward more segregated, predominantly Anglo schools. I haven't looked at the TUSD schools geographically, but I suspect the schools' racial and ethnic mix is similar to that of their neighborhood populations. If that's true, the mix in TUSD schools is more reflective of people staying put than seeking schools out of their neighborhoods.

Looking at the student populations at individual schools also yields interesting results. The 10 schools with the lowest percentage of Hispanic students—under 24 percent—are all charters, and they make up 19 percent of the charters' total student population: The Rising School (0 percent), BASIS Tucson (14.5 percent), BASIS Tucson North (14.7 percent), Khalsa School (18 percent), Hermosa Montessori (19 percent), Academy of Tucson Middle School (20.3 percent), Sky Islands (22 percent), Academy of Tucson Elementary School (22.2 percent), Academy of Tucson High School (23.3 percent) and Satori Charter School (23.6 percent). In TUSD, Collier Elementary (24.9 percent) and Fruchthendler Elementary (25 percent) have the lowest percentage of Hispanic students.

The school with the highest percentage of Hispanic students is in TUSD—C.E. Rose Elementary (97.3 percent)—and the next three are charters—Southside Community School (97.2 percent), Toltecali High (95.4 percent) and Alta Vista High (94 percent).

If you just look at TUSD schools, it's clear the district hasn't been successful in its efforts at desegregation. But looking at the district next to Tucson charter schools, it's also clear that the segregation is far greater at the charters.