Instead of Building More Charter Schools for the Few, Improve Public Education for All

Roland S. Martin is a journalist and the host and managing editor of TV One’s News One Now. For years he has promoted market-based school choice. He recently moderated a town hall, “Is School Choice the Black Choice?” at Howard University. All the while Martin has been promoting school choice, Dr. John Jackson and the Schott Foundation for Public Education (of which John Jackson is the President and CEO) have instead made the case for closing opportunity gaps in the public schools as the responsibility of a just society.  Here in a short, two-minute video from the Howard University town hall, is John Jackson, challenging Martin’s “false narrative” that public schools have failed the African American community. I urge you to watch the short video.

The town hall at Howard University followed the adoption last month of a resolution by the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, demanding investment in improving the public schools that serve the majority of children in our nation’s poorest schools and a moratorium on the expansion of charters until:

  • “Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools.
  • “Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system.
  • “Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate.
  • “(Charter schools) cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.”

Back in 2011, John Jackson was part of another panel moderated by Roland Martin. On that occasion, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was also one of the speakers.  As Martin continued to push the speakers to support school choice as the best way to meet the needs of our society’s poorest children, Rev. Jackson declared: “There are those who would make the case for a ‘race to the top’ for those who can run. But ‘lift from the bottom’ is the moral imperative because it includes everybody.”  In the recent video, John Jackson asks how many Howard University students in the room attended public schools. When a mass of hands go up, Jackson notes all the high achieving African American public school graduates at Howard University and wonders, since most American students attend traditional public schools, why the better strategy for supporting black students wouldn’t be to ensure that the public schools in poorer African American communities are resourced generously.

The Schott Foundation’s headquarters is in Cambridge, and in A Question of Better Education for All, John Jackson elaborates on why improving the public schools that serve the many is a better idea than Massachusetts Question 2 that would lift the cap on the charter schools that serve the few: “For the past decade, Massachusetts has led the nation in academic achievement. Our students have even been top ranked internationally in a time when the country’s educational outcomes have slid year by year.  Massachusetts accomplished this by taking bold steps that impact all students, most importantly changing the state’s school funding system to invest more in schools in high need, low-income areas so that all students have a better opportunity to achieve. There is still critical work to be done to close persistent opportunity gaps in the system, but we won’t get there if we go in completely the wrong direction.  This would be to allow state officials to give up on investing in improving a system that serves all students in need.”

Jackson elaborates: “When charter schools, which now serve only 4% of the state’s public school students, were added to the Massachusetts model, they were never intended to be a comprehensive ‘education plan’ for a state or locality, but rather an experiment that might provide sparks of innovation whose best practices would be integrated into the main system. It is in that system that the great majority—a full 96%—of Massachusetts students are educated… Public schools and an equal commitment to all children are pillars of our democratic system… Charters run directly counter to this democratic value.”

“When the corporate concept of ‘competition’ is used to justify the argument for increasing the number of charter schools (and student enrollment in them), we need only remind ourselves that competition means winners and losers. Why would voters ever want to substitute that value for a commitment to ensuring a high quality education for every child?… Expanding the number of charter schools reinforces a caste system of private, charter and public schools… Equal education for all breaks the cycle of intergenerational poverty; it is the path to economic opportunity.  Investing in a great education for all children in the Commonwealth is the only way to create a broad-based, diverse, well-educated workforce that is a magnet for employers and can fuel economic growth across the state.  It also ensures full participation in our democratic society.”


4 thoughts on “Instead of Building More Charter Schools for the Few, Improve Public Education for All

  1. Maybe I read this on your blog, Jan, but Steven Singer wrote, “On the surface of it, school choice sounds like a great idea. Parents will get to shop for schools and pick the one that best suits their children. In reality, school choice is just a scam to make private schools cheaper for rich people, further erode the public school system and allow for-profit corporations to gobble up education dollars meant to help children succeed.” And then there’s Jonathan Kozol: “Slice it any way you want. Argue, as we must, that every family ought to have the right to make whatever choice they like in the interests of their child, no matter what damage it may do to other people’s children. As an individual decision, it’s absolutely human; but setting up this kind of competition, in which parents with the greatest social capital are encouraged to abandon their most vulnerable neighbors, is rotten social policy. What this represents is a state-supported shriveling of civic virtue, a narrowing of moral obligation to the smallest possible parameters. For all its imperfections and constant need of diligent repair, public education remains a vision worth preserving.”

  2. Pingback: The Education Implications of an Election When Education Isn’t Mentioned | janresseger

  3. Pingback: Instead of Building More Charter Schools for the Few, Improve Public Education for All – Ministry of Public Witness

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