The powers that be in the Democratic Party, including our President, have made Charter Schools their main vehicle for educational renewal in low income communities. And there are more than a few civil rights leaders, and elected officials in Black and Latino communities who view them as a chance to give families in their neighborhoods better educational opportunities. We have now had six years of strong support for Charters from the Obama Administration, backed up by Race to the Top Money.
It is time to ask some hard questions.
In those years have we
1. Narrowed the gap in educational achievement by race and class, whether measured by test scores, high school graduation rates, college completion rates, or any more holistic measures?
2. Helped stabilize and improve inner city neighborhoods and protect them from gentrification, displacement and demographic inversion (moving the poor out of cities into the suburbs)?
3. Creating a stable force of talented committed teachers in inner city communities, many of whom live in the communities they teach in?
4. Helped reduce neighborhood and school violence or disrupted the school to prison pipeline?
If the answer to all or most of these questions is no, we– meaning advocates for public education– need to get in an honest conversation with the civil rights community about charters, understanding the basis of community support for these schools while respectfully pointing out how real estate interests, profiteers and ambitious politicians have taken what began as an experiment and turn it into a scorched earth policy that may well be doing more harm than good.