Recently, the NAACP called for a moatorium on charter schools, which would deal a blow to African-American families and their right to school choice. There are a lot of families who are not sure what to make of the call by the NAACP, so here’s my message to parents who would be most impacted by a moratorium on public charter schools.
You are not wrong for making the best decisions for your children—traditional, charter or even private (yes, even private).
Check this out: You are not required to sacrifice your child(ren) to a system that you feel isn’t working for you or your family. I work in public education, I’ve only attended traditional public schools, and I love what I am blessed to do for a living. However, let me say this again, you are not required to sacrifice your children to any educational system that is not serving them.
Whether you choose a traditional public school, a charter or a private school, you do what is best for you. I’ve seen folks who oppose education reform write things insinuating that people of color that support choice and alternative methods of education are in some form “selling out the race” or being “house negroes.” Forget all that. We know what’s at stake for our babies without a sound education.
Regardless of the type, if the school is serving your child well, then I’m in support of you. If the school is not educating your child, regardless of type, then rise up and do what you need to do.
I’ve seen Black folks with means ashamed to tell people they sent their child to private school. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen! Why are you ashamed to provide for your kids? You don’t need to justify it. Check it out, if my parents had the means and found a dope private school for me as a child and didn’t send me to it, we’d have a very real problem!
I say this a lot and will continue to say it: The schools I went to did a poor job of educating me. They weren’t safe either. Just because you don’t make a lot of money and have melanin in your skin doesn’t mean you deserve less.
The politics are never more important than the needs of your child.
Never! Not even a little bit. Please do not be the person of color that sent their child to a private school and then start shaming other people of color living in poverty for wanting to send their child to a charter. Don’t do that.
Don’t deny that same opportunity to someone else.
Don’t be the person that exercised their right to educational choice and then go into the hood and start screaming privatization to someone trying to ensure their child has access to the same options you have.
Demand choice and quality in your schools because you and your child(ren) deserve it.
Listen, here are the facts, if you just happen to be a person of color, and you don’t make a lot of money, chances are your school isn’t up to snuff. There are caring people on both sides of the reform/anti-reform debate. There are caring people inside the buildings that occupy your neighborhood, but the facts are clear, that when a school has a large portion of students on free and reduced-price lunch, the school tends to underperform.
Now that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or our babies. What it does mean is that the school will require your help. It will require your voice and only when you know and demand quality, will it change.
Do you know what happens when parents at high-performing schools see things they don’t like? I’ll tell you, they complain, write letters and organize. People, I’ve seen this happen regarding graduation dates and the grass not being cut. Now just picture what they’d do if 80 percent of the student body weren’t performing at grade level.
RAISE YOUR VOICE
Here are just four quick ways you can raise your voice and demand more from your child’s school:
- Most public schools have a governing body made up of parents; join it. Seriously. They look at budgets, school designs and more. Principals lean on these people. If you can, become one of these people.
- Build relationships with your child(ren)’s teachers and principal. Never underestimate the power of a relationship. You’ll get information sooner and will have the ear of the people running the whole shebang.
- Write letters, emails, text messages, hell, send a carrier pigeon. Stay in the minds of the people educating your baby. When I was director of a youth program, I worked to serve all of my students, but there was a handful of parents every single year whom I knew were watching and ready to help or call us out, whichever we needed. I love those parents to this day, and all of their kids turned it around and went to college. ALL. OF. THEM.
- Don’t work off of blind trust. Ever! Seriously. Always ask for data. Look for proof. Look at history. Look at what you’ve seen in your neighborhood. Whether the person is a reformer or anti-reformer, do your research. Walk in those hallways and talk to people, all different types. Every school won’t work well for every child—that’s just the truth. This business breeds a lot of demagogues on all sides, and your support is the capital they need to survive and thrive.
There are excellent public schools, both traditional and charter.
There are also some pretty horrible ones too, both traditional and charter. People will cherry-pick stories to build their cases, but the truth is, there is good and bad in all of these systems. Find what works for you.
Here’s what I know without a shadow of a doubt: If there was a school that served mostly White, affluent kids and it was failing 80 percent of those students, those people would burn it down.
They would exercise their right to choice because they understand how powerful of a tool choice is.
Black people, don’t be so quick to hand over a form of power you currently have. Public education is something I’m dedicated to improving, and the pressure from all of us is paramount in making that happen.
Keep demanding quality. I promise you, it is possible.
Charles Cole III is an educator, writer and speaker who focuses on particularly on the advancement of young Black males. He currently works for the Oakland Unified School District and blogs at One Oakland United.