originally submitted in the Clarion-Ledger on April 17, 2014
With more and more parents across the nation viewing public charter schools as their schools of choice, the question must be asked how well these innovative and independent public schools are serving children.
Recently, a leading education research center at Stanford University released a comprehensive study looking at the academic performance of students in public charter schools compared to their traditional school peers in 27 states.
The results of this study deliver promising news for students in Mississippi whose needs are not currently being met, especially for the two-thirds of our public school students who are growing up in poverty. Across the nation, charter school students living in poverty gain the equivalent of an extra 14 days of instruction in reading and 22 days in math each year compared to their traditional public school counterparts. African-American students in poverty who attend charter schools see an even larger gain with the equivalent of an additional 29 days of learning in reading and 36 days in math per year when compared to their traditional public school counterparts.
These findings, showing public charter schools are better serving students who are most in need, are not alone. Since 2010, four national studies and 11 regional studies from across the country found positive academic performance results for students in charter schools compared to their traditional school peers.
Of course, the most important measure of a transformational education is whether or not students are graduating prepared for college and career. How much is their schooling driving long-term educational attainment, career success and eventual earning power?
How do public charter schools fit in that equation? Mississippians must ask that question, especially considering we have one of the lowest social mobility rates in the nation.
Earlier this year, Mathematica Policy Research announced some preliminary research results that measured the effects of charter schools on long-term educational attainment and subsequent earnings of public charter school students. They found significant evidence that charter schools are increasing educational attainment and are boosting long-term earnings of students – ending the cycle of poverty for many low-income students enrolled in charter schools.
A colleague once remarked that anyone who thinks they have the 100 percent solution to public education has not humbled themselves to the complexity of the problem. When, according to the ACT, Mississippi has the lowest percentage of students - 12 percent - who graduate from high school college-ready, and that number is even lower - two percent - for African American students, we have a complex problem.
Too often in Mississippi we lack a real sense of urgency in implementing national best practices, even if these best practices will transform the lives of kids in our communities. Thankfully, we have parents and community leaders who are demanding better. Responding to this demand, 19 groups aspiring to open public charter schools submitted letters of intent to the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board in January, and about 80 percent of these groups represent the African American community. Most of the traditional school districts where some of these schools hope to open have seen a steady decline in student enrollment. If a community’s public education system struggles, that community struggles. These community leaders have the fortitude and discernment to relate the health of their public schools to the health of their community, and they see high-quality, public charter schools as a way to end the cycle of poverty for many of their students. Opening high-quality charters in these districts can help to bring back families into the community and inspire improvements in our public school system as a whole.
Public charter schools are part of a range of solutions that will enable every child in Mississippi to have access to a great education. When research shows that quality charter schools have a positive effect on educational attainment of low-income and African American students, we in Mississippi have a moral imperative to take note.
On January 7, 2012, a group of Mississippi business leaders released the results of their statewide scientific survey regarding education reform. The group known as Better Education for Mississippi, BE4MS, uncovered the results: 65% of Mississippians support public charter schools in any district throughout the state. This support is likely attributable to the fact that every child has unique educational needs, and too often in Mississippi these needs are not being met by the current public school system. Even in Mississippi’s higher performing school districts, almost 50,000 students are stuck in failing schools. Public charter schools can serve as an alternative to students who are struggling in their current failing public school. Click on the icon to the left to learn more about BE4MS and for the results to the statewide survey.
Charter school critics claim that because school choice reforms fail to benefit ALL students in the public school system, then it is a harmful reform. The story of the Star Thrower proves why that philosophy impedes opportunities for the betterment of our children.
"A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement. She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved." - adapted from the Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley
A Stone’s Throw is a short film which demonstrates the desire of Mississippi parents, teachers, pastors, and students to have more public school options. It also features two charter public schools – one that is just across the Mississippi River in Helena, Arkansas, and one that is just across the state line in Memphis, Tennessee. Their methods are different, but their results are the same – successful students, fulfilled teachers, and satisfied parents! Click on the icon to the left to watch the film and learn more about your neighbors in the film.
Just five years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans's investment in charter schools began to pay off. The rate of student academic growth in New Orleans public schools was at three to four times the statewide rate of growth. Check out the video below and pay close attention to the school leader from KIPP: "I've heard a lot of people say, 'No, I support public schools.' We are a public school. In every sense of the word we are a public school. Any student from New Orleans can come here for a free education. We are a public school. We have public funding. The difference is a matter of how it's organized and where the autonomy is to decide how its run...These [students] are amazing. And that's the thing, kids alway have been amazing, right? It's not the kids. It's the opportunities and the structure in giving the environment for them to flourish."