What is diverse enough? How “intentionally diverse” charter schools recruit and retain students

Huriya Jabbar, Terri S. Wilson


School choice has the potential to be a tool for desegregation, but research suggests that choice more often exacerbates segregation than remedies it. In the past several years, hundreds of ‘intentionally diverse’ charter schools have opened across the country, potentially countering the link between charter schools and segregation. Yet, these schools raise important questions about choice, segregation, and equity. For instance: how do leaders of diverse charter schools prioritize diversity in decisions about location, marketing, and recruitment? What are the implications of these diversity efforts for equity, especially within competitive and marketized educational contexts? We explore the concrete recruiting and marketing strategies schools used to build and retain their diverse communities, drawing on qualitative data from New Orleans, LA, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN. We identify key strategies used by school leaders, but also note that many strategies were ad-hoc and experimental. Furthermore, we noted that school goals around “how much” diversity was sufficient were often unarticulated, making schools susceptible to external pressures that might refocus attention away from equity and diversity, or allow groups with more power to shape agendas within the school. Finally, we find that contexts of gentrification and widening economic inequities threatened schools’ efforts to recruit and maintain a diverse student body. We discuss implications for leaders of diverse charter schools and other leaders seeking to diversify their student bodies, as well as policymakers and charter authorizers.


diversity; education policy; charter schools; school choice; segregation

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.26.3883

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Copyright (c) 2019 Huriya Jabbar, Terri S. Wilson

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