Don’t Blame Charter Schools For Lacking Diversity, Says Top TN Reformer

Chris Barbic (left) tours Aspire Academy in Memphis with Gov. Bill Haslam (right). Barbic was named as the first leader of the state's Achievement School District, which was created to turn around the state's lowest performing schools. Barbic came to Tennessee from Houston, where he started a nationally recognized charter school organization. He graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1992. Credit: TN Photo Services

Chris Barbic (left) tours Aspire Schools in Memphis with Gov. Bill Haslam (right). Barbic was named as the first leader of the state’s Achievement School District, which was created to turn around the state’s lowest performing schools. Barbic came to Tennessee from Houston, where he started a nationally recognized charter school organization. He graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1992. Credit: TN Photo Services

NOTE: An earlier version of this story included a paraphrased quote that has been revised. A direct quote has been added along with audio of the comments.

The man charged with turning around Tennessee’s lowest performing schools says charters can’t be blamed for lacking diversity. He contends any segregation is just a reflection of society.

Many in a crowd at Lipscomb University groaned as Chris Barbic, who leads the state’s Achievement School District, *acknowledged the reality that charter schools are largely segregated.

“Yes we want diversity,” Barbic said at the forum. “But we’ve got to be honest about the situation and speak honestly about race and class, which goes way beyond the power of a school.”

Barbic founded the Houston-based charter school organization YES Prep, which primarily serves low-income students. He’s now in charge of Tennessee schools that fall in the lowest five percent in the state. Most of those are in inner-city Memphis, and many have been converted into charter schools.

Diversity is a good goal for any public school, Barbic tells WPLN. But he says diversity shouldn’t be a requirement of charters, which are privately operated and publicly funded.

“Most schools, they are the representation of a neighborhood and most neighborhoods are folks who live together that look alike. That’s just the honest reality. I think that’s the case here in Nashville and most communities. And so I think to put that on charters that it’s something they’ve caused or are responsible for is unfair.”

Minority and low-income students still make up most of the enrollment for Nashville’s 20 charter schools. This fact has not been a huge source of controversy. More feared is that charter schools will expand into wealthier areas and become mostly white and affluent, effectively re-segregating the school system.

*This line has been revised for clarity.

Please keep your community civil. Comments will be moderated prior to posting, and Nashville Public Radio reserves the right to approve them at its discretion. Comments containing links promoting goods, services - even noble organizations - will not be published. Your comments may include external links, but all comments with links will be delayed as they are reviewed. Comments containing profanity will be rejected.