Charter Pulse

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TENNESSEE: Charter, traditional schools both play key role

michigan-charter-schoolsThe organization I lead, the United Negro College Fund, the nation’s largest minority education organization, and Metro Nashville Public Schools share a critical mission: We are dedicated to making sure our children get the education they need to compete in the 21st-century economy.

At UNCF, we want to see today’s elementary and secondary school students receive our scholarships and attend our member colleges and universities — including Nashville’s own Fisk University — or any other college. And Nashville needs these young people to complete their education so they can become its next generation of leaders.

For me, and I know for MNPS leaders, as well, that mission is more than a job; it’s personal, too. My children and I all got public school educations, and my grandchildren are attending high-performing public charter schools. So I know that both traditional public schools and public charter schools have important roles to play in making sure all our children get the education they need and that we need them to have.

That’s why I hope that the Nashville leaders who are pushing for a moratorium on the formation of new public charter schools will reconsider and take a look at what charters, as well as traditional schools, can contribute to fulfilling the aspirations we all have for our young people.

UNCF is especially concerned with making sure African-Americans from low-income families get a good education. I know MNPS shares that concern: 46 percent of all MNPS students are black, and 72 percent are economically disadvantaged.

It’s the record of public charter schools that makes me so strong a believer in the role they can play in helping to educate these critical young people. A recent Stanford University study showed that Tennessee public charters, all of which serve a disproportionately high percentage of minority and low-income students, outperform traditional public schools by large margins — each year adding the equivalent of 86 additional days of learning in reading and 72 days in math, compared to traditional schools. In Nashville, based on the state’s evaluation of academic progress, four of the top five performing middle schools are charters.

It’s a record that has convinced Tennesseans and Nashvillians. Two-thirds of Tennessee voters support charter school expansion. Many Nashville families are voting with their applications, placing their children on the charter school waiting lists that are necessary, because there currently is only enough space for about one in 20 students to attend a charter school.

Our policy shouldn’t be “either-or” — charters or traditional public schools. It should be “both-and.” In fact, the respective strengths of charters and traditional public school has given rise to a new kind of school district, the “portfolio district,” which takes the best of both charter and traditional schools to improve the performance of all schools to get the best on behalf of, and out of, all Nashville’s young people. Charter schools’ record of achievement, here in Nashville, throughout Tennessee and around the country, has earned them a prominent place in the MNPS portfolio of schools.

I know that Nashville public schools, like big-city school districts everywhere, face daunting budget challenges. But we need to manage budgets, not let them manage us. We especially should not let tight budgets lead us to disinvest in educational approaches, like charter schools, that have proven their ability to get the results we all want and our children need and deserve.

Public charter schools are not the sole answer to Nashville’s education challenges. But they are a potent and essential part of the solution. Giving more of Nashville’s parents the choice to enroll their children in charter schools now is the smart and right thing to do.

Source: The Tennessean – by Michael L. Lomax, Ph.D. (President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund)

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This entry was posted on September 10, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Tennessee and tagged .


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