Who will charter schools serve? | Tate

Among other things charter schools in this election were touted as being good for students who are not doing well in regular public schools. We know that highly diverse/high poverty schools generally have proportionately higher numbers of students not making the grade, with black and brown students most often performing the worst.

If it is true that charter schools help low performing black and brown students one would have expected the community leaders and parents of black and brown students to be overcome with joy because charter schools would help to reduce their children's proportionately high numbers in the pipeline from schools to prison.

The reason "if it's true" is being raised is because Oscar Eason Jr., president of Alaska/Oregon/Washington State Area Conference NAACP, and Estela Ortega, executive director El Centro de la Raza, helped prepare the argument against charter schools. With these two heavyweights having lined up against charter schools it should send a message to those who care about black, brown, poor white and other students in the pipeline from schools to prison to examine the potential effects of charter schools very carefully. As one advocate in the region frequently notes, your children's education is not a spectator sport.

We need only go to the "Waiting for Superman" movie to visualize what is meant by "not a spectator sport" for parents. One mother in the documentary cried when the lottery number wasn't called that would allow her child to enter the charter school. Obviously this was a parent who was highly motivated and therefore a strong supporter for her child's education.

This parent had to be interested enough in her child's education to be aware that there were other choices for her child; she might have investigated the possible choices to determine that a charter school might be better for her child; she had to get an application and take the time to fill it out; she had to submit the application and monitor the selection process; and she waited with great anticipation and hope for her number to be called.

We can just about guarantee that a parent who does that much for her child's education will find a way for her child to get the best available education in whatever education system she finds herself.

It is these parents that are more likely to be the ones who leave public schools and go to charter schools in many instances. Why wouldn't a charter school or a regular public school succeed with that kind of parent support for education?

This is not an opinion to discredit the many great achievements of "some" charter schools. However, as Diane Ravitch puts it in "The Death and Life of the Great American School System," subtitled, "How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education," oftentimes charter schools take the cream off the top of public schools, she said. In a manner of speaking, by removing the highly motivated parents and students from the regular public schools, along with the money, the strongest supporters of education are taken from public schools.

Charter schools really help black, brown and poor white students who struggle, if they select the lowest performing students in the most highly diverse/high poverty school districts in the state. Create the selection process with the understanding that the least motivated parents having the neediest students will generally not opt into a charter school.

Therefore, create a process whereby students will automatically be placed in the charter school if their grades are below a certain point. They will then have to opt out in order to be removed from the charter school. This approach will clearly indicate whether a given charter school is really trying to help low performing students or simply exploiting the low performing black and brown student data to achieve some other goal.

Another heavyweight is Thelma Jackson, a Ph.D., on the Steering Committee for the Black Education Roundtable, and former president of the Washington Alliance of Black School Educators (WABSE). She helped prepare the argument to vote for charter schools in Washington State.

It's advocates like her who we can count on to be sure that public charter schools get to and address issues leading students into the school to prison pipeline. Otherwise what Washington public charter schools may become are more equal opportunity schools, which are often not equitable.

Rather than scraping the cream off the top, public charter schools will have the opportunity to address equity issues; something that hopefully the Gates and Waltons are looking for as they pay to help improve public schools.

If public charter schools selected the lowest performing students and found creative ways to help them become successful then regular public schools and the public charter schools could be great partners. Is that possible?

Just in case they need a little help, we might want to wake up some folks and help them get involved. As parents/guardians/ family you are the only real "Superwoman" and "Superman" for your children.

Melvin Tate is a regular contributor to the Kent Reporter.

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