The Atlantic

The Challenge of Manufacturing a Diverse Campus

A charter in Detroit that sought to attract families of all races and incomes is seeing real integration. But it might not stay that way.
Source: Erin Einhorn

It was four days into the two-week enrollment period for the new Detroit Prep charter school and Kyle Smitley was starting to worry.

Smitley, the school’s co-founder, had opened Detroit Prep in September with grand ambitions of building the city’s first truly diverse charter school. She had embraced an idea that’s gained momentum across the country as educators have increasingly acknowledged that the nation’s segregated schools are hurting children and communities, and had managed to recruit an impressively diverse group of black, white, and mixed-race kids for her school’s inaugural year.

Smitley hoped her school’s integrated classrooms could help heal the historic racial divide in a predominantly black city where a flood of new white residents has brought new investment, new energy—and the hurtful perception that the “new Detroit” doesn’t include families who have struggled here for generations.

But the quest for diversity had led Smitley to enroll students in a way that could leave out many Detroiters, opening the school to criticism that it’s catering to the “haves” in a city where most children are among the “have nots.”

And by the fourth day of enrollment, she had reason to fear for the future of her school’s diversity. As she watched early applications pour in, she saw that most of the families were coming from a few middle-class neighborhoods—ones where white families increasingly are choosing to live. She knew that state charter-school laws would limit her ability to keep the balance. And she fretted about what would happen next. “We don’t have any control,” she lamented as she scrolled through a list of students who applied. “Our mission and vision isn’t to serve homogenous groups … but there’s nothing we can do.”

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