I am a former district public school teacher, and as I look around the world to see what some of my former students are doing today, I believe I have made a difference in those schools and in their lives. Many district public school teachers can testify to the same. Obviously, my preference is for all students to have their best opportunity to learn no matter how the school is classified, but we know that is not what is happening. The schools where I taught did not have the word “charter” in front of them. We had to follow the common calendar of all other public schools in our school district. We were required to teach what our supervisors told us to teach. We had access to the number of school days and hours authorized by the district and nothing more. We had little to no authority over any of the rules. We were not free to change them in any way—even if there might have been another method for reaching the students. However, there are many success stories from non-charter public schools; yet, we know that for many district public schools learning opportunities have not worked and there is a need for an alternative. Could public charter schools be the answer? It is for some students.
Let’s take a look at what public charter schools are doing that’s different from district public schools. For one, many of the rules of operation changed for them. More options became available to students who attend public charter schools. Results for many public charter schools are impressive. In 2016, a nationwide survey found that 82 percent of Black parents responded in favor or strongly in favor of allowing parents to choose which public school their child attends. When parents have chosen which school their child would attend, it has been found that public charter schools spur academic achievement for Black students. It seems that one of the advantages of choosing a public charter school is the opportunity to provide additional days of school to students’ learning. It has been reported that students in public charter schools tend to be better prepared for college, have higher SAT scores, were more likely to take and pass AP exams, and much more likely to graduate and attend a four-year institution after high school than their peers in district public schools.
78 percent of the parents participating in one survey would like to see more public-school choices in their communities. It is my hope that parents who wish to use the public-charter school option understand that more is expected of them because these schools generally place more emphasis on parent and community collaboration.
Charter schools are accountable to the public. If and when they don’t succeed, they can either be improved or closed. Unlike non-charter schools, public charter schools can choose its teachers and they are required to serve the public by raising student achievement. Perhaps the additional days of learning help that process. Whatever the reason, I find public charter schools promising and I would like to see the secret to their success shared with all schools or see more public charter schools made available to all students who are not currently succeeding where they are. We owe it to all of our students to have a school that provides them with their best chance to learn. I applaud public charter schools that are succeeding for those who attend. Our goal must be to find a space for any student who might perform better in a school other than the one they now attend no matter how that school is defined. In the meantime, congratulations to all successful public charter schools.
Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq., National President of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. She is also a radio show host of “Wake Up and Stay Woke” on WPFW-FM 89.3.
The NCBW was a co-sponsor of the 2019 convening of School Leaders of Color organized by the National Alliance. Learn more about this special event.