It is time to ask some hard questions. In the past six years, have charters:
1. Narrowed the gap in educational achievement by race and class, whether measured by test scores, high school graduation rates, college completion rates, or more holistic measures?
2. Helped to 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. Created 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 disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in any important way?
If the answer to all or most of these questions is no (and it is), advocates for public education need to have 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 turned it into a scorched-earth policy that may well be doing more harm than good.
The result has been destabilization of neighborhoods, weakening of teachers unions, and mass firings of veteran teachers — many of them teachers of color — all done with the support of the U.S. Department of Education as part of its Race to the Top policy. Though these measures have been justified as advancing educational opportunity in inner-city communities — and have been indeed promoted as a “civil rights” measure by Obama administration officials — we need a careful evaluation of the results on students, families and communities before closings and charter formation on a grand scale are brought to other cities.
To date, they have not produced the results they promised.
Mark Naison, a professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University and director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program, has some important questions about charter schools. He is the author of three books and over 100 articles on African American History, urban history, and the history of sports, and he is a founder of the Badass Teachers Association. A version of this appeared on his blog, With a Brooklyn Accent. This excerpt was also printed in an article by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post. Click HERE to read the article in its entirety.