I’ve been a long time advocate and supporter of our public school systems and will always continue that fight. Just like you, I envision a future in education where every child has the resources to succeed regardless of zip code. But it’s clear to me there has been an assault and over-politicization of the public school debate. In GA we have schools that are UNDERFUNDED and OVERCROWDED. The truth is we are all in agreement that many of our public schools are underperforming and students suffer the biggest loss in that equation. The question is, how can we fix the academic achievement gaps in our Georgia public schools?
Recently I was able to take a trip to Washington D.C. hosted by an organization called BOOK (Better Outcomes for Our Kids) led by David Mitchell, where myself and other community focused individuals with backgrounds in public education, civil rights and advocacy learned about “school choice” models. Before you let that terminology “school choice” frighten you, allow me to render my unfiltered conclusions…
In GA we have a current political hot potato with “private charter schools” versus traditional public education. It’s evident, some charter schools do have certain advantages; they are less restricted by traditional methods of education, can mandate parent involvement and make adjustments to increase academic performance without a bureaucracy. The truth is, these “private charter schools” are not truly “private” but rather “non-traditional public schools” with an operational charter from either the state or local government to provide academic curriculum. The students who attend are usually from the local area; there’s no cost for attendance and the institutions are funded by public education dollars. In many cases the local community controls the school BUT there are non-for-profit companies who have made charter style education BIG business which is the main reason some people are very critical of the entire publicly funded charter school movement.
During my trip to D.C. there were two institutions that stood out to me. One was a school displaying a tremendously strong African-American faculty and staff. The kids were learning in a fun and innovative environment. Dedication to the students became even more evident as our tour continued. Another school we visited had virtually an all White leadership staff but the school and neighborhood were virtually 100% African-American. The optics of this scenario were bad enough but when we walked the halls it seemed stoic. The kids weren’t engaging and the mood was not of a fun learning environment. It actually left me with a feeling in the pit of my stomach that was not pleasant. There seemed to be a strong disconnect between student and teacher.
As with most professional establishments there’s good and bad implementation. D.C. has been engaged in the publicly funded charter approach for almost 20 years and virtually half of their public schools are charter schools. They also have laws and procedures to ensure inferior charter programs never see the light of day. And there’s true government oversight with an appointed charter school director accountable to the tax payers. However, none of this exists in GA… at least not yet. If we are going to solve the political debate between “pro charter” and “pro traditional public schools” we will need to not only look at changing our information consumption around this topic but also our state laws to ensure we’re giving our kids and their parents the best choice possible with proper oversight and accountability ensuring the highest levels of quality in education.
Don’t forget to tune into Real Talk with Rashad Richey weekdays from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. on News and Talk 1380 WAOK The Voice of The community.