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Parents unhappy with the "woke" propaganda that permeates many public schools may think they can escape leftist indoctrination simply by using school-choice options. However, "choice" by itself doesn’t guarantee that their children will end up in schools that promote the values they prefer. 

When it comes to charter schools, new evidence suggests that many are amplifying, not curtailing, the woke values that parents seek to avoid.

Charter schools, currently the most common type of school choice offered in the U.S., often aren’t designed properly to respond to parents’ values. To open and continue operating, charters need to be in the good graces of state-selected charter authorizers who are tasked with deciding which applications for new charters should be accepted and whether existing charters should be forced to close.

School choice signs

Signs for a rally celebrating National School Choice Week on Halifax Mall in front of the Legislative Building in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Jan. 24, 2024. (Travis Long/Raleigh News & Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

In addition, because they receive less per pupil funding than traditional public schools and need to acquire school buildings, charters often find themselves courting financial support from major philanthropies like the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

WHAT THIS MILESTONE MEANS FOR THE SCHOOL CHOICE MOVEMENT

Pleasing authorizers and funders can look very different from pleasing families. And it shows.

In a report recently published by The Heritage Foundation, we gauge the values of charter schools by examining their parent-student handbooks and counting the number of times they use words that signal fealty to progressive ideology, including (1) diversity; (2) equity; (3) inclusion; (4) restorative; (5) justice; (6) social-emotional learning; (7) gender identity; and (8) culturally affirming/relevant. 

These woke values tend to emphasize social justice, not individual justice, and eschew traditional American and classical-liberal values of individual responsibility and equal treatment in favor of differentiated treatment by group identity.

We then compare charter results to that of the handbook produced in the geographically closest district school serving the same age-group. Overall, we observe that these eight "woke" terms are used almost twice as often in the charter schools (2,517 times across 211 schools) compared to district schools (1,317 times across 211 schools). 

CONDOLEEZZA RICE DEFENDS SCHOOL CHOICE, ARGUES THAT IT IS A RACE ISSUE: 'ARE YOU FOR SCHOOL CHOICE OR NOT?'

The pattern is replicated on a head-to-head basis, as there are 122 cases of a charter school using the terms more than the comparison district school but only 68 cases of the opposite (21 cases were a tie).

Our results indicate that charter schools are significantly more woke than district schools. Charter wokeness is not a function of parental demand, but the degree to which regulators and philanthropists have captured those schools.

In a previous report, we observed that the prevalence of woke terms in charter handbooks was correlated with regulatory environment. Where charter policies force schools to be more answerable to regulators and donors rather than parents, the more woke those charter schools are. Notably, that pattern holds even after statistically controlling for state political partisanship.

FLEXIBILITY FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS IS THE NEXT STEP FOR SCHOOL CHOICE

On the regulatory side, the main culprit is the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), a national membership organization for charter authorizers and a kingmaker in setting priorities for the charter movement generally. NACSA lobbies heavily to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in charter authorizing, considering it one of their top priorities. 

In a report that offers "practical guidance and recommendations to authorizers who are ready to close the DEI gap and prioritize DEI in their organizations," NACSA promotes such divisive practices as "equity audits" (i.e., counting the number of people from various racial groups to identify where race-based hiring should occur) and racial affinity groups (i.e., racial segregation).

On the philanthropy side, the main culprits undermining parents are the Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and NewSchools Venture Fund. These organizations give hundreds of millions of dollars to charter schools, and all have a clear expectation of DEI implementation.

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For example, Walton’s five-year plan states that "prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion in the grants the foundation makes and the voices it engages" is one of their top three goals. Gates, meanwhile, underwrites "anti-racist" curricula that view "getting the right answer" as a manifestation of "white supremacy." 

Not to be outdone, the NewSchools Venture Fund states that all schools in its portfolio must be "committed to developing educational experiences" that are "aligned to… three design principles," one of which is "equity."

Given the leverage these organizations have over charter schools, it’s no wonder that the range of options offered by charters are far to the left of those preferred by the average parent.

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Thankfully, however, a fix is possible. NACSA’s influence can be neutralized by slashing the millions of dollars they receive through state and federal funds. In addition, introducing multiple charter authorizers and deregulation can help charters more closely resemble parental preferences, as Arizona has done.

Parents shouldn’t flee woke public schools only to find that their charter alternatives are even more woke. Reforms of charter policies can ensure that charters reflect the full range of values that parents prefer.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM JAY GREENE

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM IAN KINGSBURY

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE BY JASON BEDRICK

Ian Kingsbury is senior fellow at the Education Freedom Institute. Jason Bedrick is a research fellow in the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

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