How to Integrate Richmond Schools: More Charters

by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Public Schools school board is desperate to get more diversity in its schools, meaning it wants more white kids in schools dominated by African-Americans. The board has been considering a proposal to smear the cream, so to speak: spread the limited supply of white kids, concentrated in two elementary schools, among more schools. Another option, described in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today, is to create a “weighted lottery” for open enrollment, giving preferential treatment to students from low-income students trying to get into schools that aren’t in their neighborhood zones.

One option that the superintendent and school board have steadfastly ignored is creating more charter schools. Richmond’s only charter school, the Patrick Henry School of Sciences and Arts, is about as integrated as you can get. The 318 students enrolled in 2018-19 were 41% white and 56% black, according to Virginia Department of Education statistics. Forty percent of the student body is classified as disadvantaged. In other words, Patrick Henry fits progressives’  dream of mixing poor African-American kids with better-off white kids.

Why don’t Richmond school officials look at Patrick Henry as a model? Could that school be doing something different than other public schools?

Why, yes, in fact, Patrick Henry does do things differently than other public schools. It just isn’t doing things that fit the progressive narrative of what public schools need. The school opened in 2007 with the mission to build an institution “with a diverse racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic population,” provide “an alternative school experience, act as a laboratory for best practices, meet SOL standards, and be a part of Richmond Public Schools in order to attract more families to public education.”

Patrick Henry sets high expectations for parental involvement and student behavior. For starters, it requires students to wear uniforms.

Critically, the school also makes parents sign an agreement committing them to volunteer for such school activities as playground supervision, supporting teachers in the classroom, working on school gardens, engaging in extracurricular activities, attending PTA meetings, and the like.  States the school’s family involvement requirement: “Families are required to complete 24 hours of involvement per school year as a condition of continued enrollment at PHSSA.”

The Patrick Henry website does not address the school’s approach to discipline. Perhaps the school is governed by the City of Richmond’s disciplinary policies. Regardless, ranked by the number of the number of Standards of Accreditation disciplinary offenses as a primary filter and the rate of chronic absenteeism as a secondary filter, Patrick Henry has the second best learning climate of Richmond’s 26 elementary schools. Only Mary Munford Elementary does better.

It is a truism that parents prefer their children to attend orderly schools. Parents do not like it when their child’s classes are disrupted by misbehaving students. They do not like it when their child is bullied. Given the ability to make a choice, parents will move their children to an orderly school over a chaotic school. For whatever reason — the high expectations set by school administrators or something else — Patrick Henry students are well behaved.

Provide school uniforms, parental engagement, and orderly classrooms, and you’ll have no trouble getting plenty of white families to send their children to integrated schools in the City of Richmond. This is not rocket science. On a scale of difficulty, this is more like 8th grade algebra. But somehow this shining example of how to achieve racial integration in Richmond city schools seems to have made no impression upon the progressives running the school system, who say the answer is more “social equity” and mo’ money. I shake my head in disbelief.

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One response to “How to Integrate Richmond Schools: More Charters”

  1. […] estimable Jim Bacon raised the question of the performance of Richmond’s Patrick Henry, a charter […]

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