For decades, the NAACP has worked to throw open the schoolhouse doors for children of color. At every turn, they have fought to remove the ethnic and racial barriers that stand in the way of giving all children access to a quality public education.
That is why the organization’s recent call to halt any new charter public schools in the United States has left community education advocates like me surprised and disappointed.
We have charter schools in our communities. We send our kids to them. They are community assets. In fact, for us charter schools represent a positive alternative to many failing public schools that have become the norm in urban communities throughout America.
Charter schools are free and open to all students. Funded with public dollars, they are held accountable to state and national standards. The teachers who stand at the front of the classrooms are certified teachers.
Best of all, charter schools work. And they work not just for children from privileged backgrounds. It turns out, charter schools work especially well for children of color and for children from low-income households.
In the classrooms in the country’s more than 6,800 charter schools, more than 60 percent of the desks are occupied by children of color. Fifty-six percent of charter school students live in low-income households. Both of these percentages are higher than in traditional public schools.
But community advocates like me don’t believe in charters just because they educate more of our kids. We believe in them because they give more of our kids a better education and, ultimately, a fair chance at life.
A recent study from Stanford University found that African-American charter students gained 36 extra days of learning in reading and 26 extra days of learning in math compared to their African-American peers in noncharter public schools.
For low-income African-American students in charter schools, the gains were even more impressive. These students gained the equivalent of 44 extra days of learning in reading and an astonishing 59 extra days of learning in math over their peers in traditional public schools.
Kids who attend charter high schools graduate at higher rates than kids at traditional public schools. There are many charter high schools where 100 percent of the students graduate and 100 percent of those are accepted into college.
If these statistics don’t move you, look to families across the country that have enrolled nearly 3 million children in charter public schools. Look to the 1 million student names on waiting lists to get into charter public schools. Parents are voting with their feet and choosing charter public schools. They’re doing so because, like all of us, these parents want what is best for their kids.
On Saturday, the NAACP’s board is set to vote on the moratorium. Believers in charter schools have invited them to visit and see for themselves what kind of schools they are.
What the NAACP’s leaders would see are public schools that are delivering on the promise of a high-quality education that is free and available to all. They would find schools that are centers of community, with organized and energized parents and dedicated and inspired teachers and administrators. They would find public schools that are delivering for our kids.
Like the NAACP and other education advocates, we know more can and must be done for students of color. There are still too many African-American and Latino kids who have been left standing on the wrong side of the achievement gap.
But our message is clear. Charter public schools aren’t the culprit. By giving our children the education they deserve and preparing them for a bright future, they are a proven part of the solution.
LaVar Young is New Jersey state director for the Black Alliance for Educational Options.