“You can be anything you want to be,” is a common anecdote many parents tell their children as they tuck them into bed, hopeful that they mature into accomplished and fulfilled individuals. In order for their children to succeed, as most parents know, a proper elementary and high school education is the first step towards securing their child’s future. However, as educational inequality between minority and white students increases, charter schools have promoted themselves as the answer to decreasing these disparities in achievement levels. Charter schools, publicly funded but privately governed institutions, utilize specialized classes and innovative teaching models to provide children with a higher quality education. Although students in these schools may raise their own performance levels, how are inner city charter schools perpetuating the problem of educational inequality?
Charter schools began as a way to increase academic proficiency among minority students, as children of poor ethnic backgrounds continuously arrived at college unprepared for its scholastic demands. Supporters of these schools believe that due to the smaller class sizes and diverse curriculum, students have the opportunity to reach the same levels of academic success as their white cohorts. With the ability to “design the environment it believes will best serve students’ needs,” charter schools allow minority students to learn in ways their public school failed to provide (Charter Schools 1). Debates over whether the children attending a charter school significantly outperform the students of their same district remain questionable, and opponents argue that educational inequality is promoted when groups of students are educated differently than others.
The struggle to provide a quality education for minority students is evident in the many policy and transfer reforms that have been created in various school districts. The No Child Left Behind Act, created to increase performance in reading and math skills, the Mexican American/Raza Studies program in a public school in Arizona, and the fight to allow students in Missouri to transfer to accredited school districts, demonstrate that parents and teachers are committed to improving the educational system’s success for marginalized students. Removing factions of underperforming students from public schools, and giving them a specialized opportunity for growth, increases the divide among achievement levels and furthers the educational inequality in inner city school districts. Rather than focusing on restoring the public school system, meant to reflect the diversity and challenges of all students and allow each child to reach their educational aspirations, charter schools “grant a rigorous education to only a limited number of urban students” (Chapman, Donnor 144). Educational equality should be attainable for all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, and school placement.
Although the public school system has failed in many ways, providing funds and resources to alternative institutions proliferates unequal education and discrimination facing minority students. Reducing the achievement gap between minority and white peers can be equally achieved through “relevant pedagogy, school financing, and integration,” rather than allowing access to a limited number of desks in a school that is still comprised of the same minority students (Chapman, Donnor 137). A study by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project found “higher levels of segregation for Black students in charter schools than in public schools, even though public school segregation has been growing steadily for two decades,” meaning that removing minority students from their district’s public school dilutes the diversity within the school (Russom 1). Transferring students to charter schools does not remedy the “substandard ghetto high schools,” as Adrienne Rich, a teacher of the SEEK program at City College, describes the schooling experience for many children (Rich 55). Promoting charter schools allows districts to avoid the existing problems within mainstream schools, and opponent’s views are comparable to those who contest the race-based achieved goals used to enhance the performance scores of students under the No Child Left Behind Act. They believe that the division “normalize[s] the idea that students of color are incapable of learning at rates similar to other children” without special accommodations (Bland 65). Therefore, in order to increase excellence and equality for all students, policy makers must focus on the reform of public schools rather than promoting the shift to charter schools.
Achieving educational equality should begin at the heart of the issue, the public schools themselves. Separating minority students from each other and moving them to charter schools creates yet another precarious division in the American school system, and promotes the idea that certain students are equipped to succeed more than others. Every child should graduate the public school system with the tools to carve a path for themselves in any way they desire, to become active members of society, and to fulfill their parent’s wish that they realize every goal they set out to accomplish.
Bland, Ayriel. "No Child Left Behind: Why Racebased Achievement Goals Violate The Equal Protection Clause." Berkeley La Raza Law Journal 24.(2014): 59- 80. Legal Source. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.
Chapman, Thandeka K., and Jamel K. Donnor. "Critical Race Theory And The Proliferation Of U.S. Charter Schools." Equity & Excellence In Education 48.1 (2015): 137-157. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.
Eligon, John. "In Missouri, Race Complicates a Transfer to Better Schools." New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed.Aug 01 2013. ProQuest. Web. 26 Apr. 2015 .
"New Jersey Charter Schools Association - Understand Charter Schools." New Jersey Charter Schools Association - Understand Charter Schools. New Jersey Charter Schools Association, n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.
Palos, Ari Luis, and Eren Isabel McGinnis. "Precious Knowledge." PBS. Dos Vatos Productions and ITVS, 17 May 2012. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.
Rich, Adrienne. "Teaching Language in Open Admissions." On Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-78. New York: W.W. Norton, 1972. N. pag. Print.
Russom, Gillian. "The Case Against Charter Schools." 71 (n.d.): n. pag. International Socialist Review. Center for Economic Research and Social Change. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.