The real Charter School threat to “Public” Schools

Conventional wisdom informed me that Public Charter Schools are a threat, not an ally of urban public schools. Pushed by conservatives who have never valued public school education, charter schools and school voucher programs for poor students to attend private schools are an obvious drain on meager public school resources.

I thought that was it: charter schools and vouchers drain off funds (and presumably the most highly motivated inner city students) from the public schools; hastening the demise of urban schools, discrediting the public education system even more than it does on its own.

I read once that public education began in this country after the Civil War, as a way to educate the freed Black slaves. After all, teaching a slave to read had been illegal in some states, hence the open, racist, hostility to any kind of public education, not to mention desegregated public education in the South.

At the time of the Brown v. Board of Education decision for example, the state of New York spent four times the amount per pupil, per year that was spent in the state of Mississippi, my home state. That was for all children, not just Black children. Down South, while it appeared that only Black children were being cheated by separate and unequal schools, White children were also being cheated by their state governments.

But the true danger of charter schoos, in my opinion, is much, much, much deeper than just that.

When southern states were forced to desegregate their schools, they proceeded with an official policy called “massive resistance” to the Supreme Court’s order that they desegregate “with all deliberate speed.”

So, when in the late 1980s or so, when public schools finally desegregated in my hometown of Indianola, Miss., Gentry High School, the previously Black school, was left as the only public high. But a funny thing happened at the very moment Gentry became the town’s only high school: White parents and educators opened the virtually all-White, Indianola Academy. Private academies emerged all over the state in fact.

As soon as the public schools desegregated, all the White children started attending the private academies. That is, ALL White children, except those from the most destitute families attended the academies. The private academies all gave a few “scholarships” (read “vouchers”) to one or two Black students, so as not to be guilty of absolute re-segregation, but the affect in the end was two school systems: one public, one private, once again separate and very unequal.

But the private schools created a hardship for White families, because Whites still had to pay property taxes to support the public (read Black) schools, while they had to pay tuition, which was often greater than their taxes to send their children to their own academies. This depressed real estate values all over the South for Whites.

Up North, on the other hand, White families simply moved to the suburbs, and eventually to the exurbs, in order to get away from Blacks moving iinto White enclaves. The suburban schools maintained the higher standards to which White families were accustomed, and the northern version of segregated schools continued, unabated.

But then, gas prices and commute times started climbing and climbing, and Whites wanted their inner-cities back. The “gentrification” movement began, with White “gentry” re-settling in the cities. The first urban pioneers were childless couples: “DINKs”–Double Incomes No Kids. The cities were not safe yet for families, because the public schools were so bad.

Enter the Public Charter School (PCS) movement. Instead of being the “laboratories for best practices” which could be tried in the charter schools free from the public school bureaucracies, and then implemented system-wide, some charter schools in the District of Columbia are becoming havens for White pupils.

White families have been returning to D.C. in droves. Between 2001 and 2006, for example, more than 20,000 Whites moved into town, while at least 20,000 Blacks fled the city. But White families still could not send their children to the rowdy, poorly managed inner-city schools, and they had no interest in salvaging the entire school system…hence charter schools to the rescue.

In my Petworth neighborhood, for example, the spank-brand-new Haynes Charter School has a fancy new campus and a 25 percent White student body. The school accepts pupils pre-K to seventh grade. A total of 600 students attend Haynes, and they have at least a six-month waiting list. Meanwhile, just two blocks away, however, Parkview (public) Elementary has a declining enrollment and is slated to be closed by the DCPS in 2011. Hm-m-m. It gets curiouser and curiouser.

So now, the bottom line is this. White parents can send their motivated, eager to learn children to free public charter schools for seven or eight years, and can save the tuition they might have to pay to send their little darlings to The Lab School, or St. Albans, or Sidwell Friends. Black parents, who don’t care about their un-motivated children, and who would rather blame the teachers and the school system for their children’s failure to learn, just complain, and nothing improves.

A brilliant scheme. Too bad (or maybe not) Whites can’t adopt it for themselves in Mississippi.

One thought on “The real Charter School threat to “Public” Schools

  1. It is so unfortunate that the historical scars of massive resistance, oppression and hate have allowed us to blindly associate today’s concept of a charter school with many of the policies, laws, and systems designed to oppress Blacks while providing stellar educational opportunities to whites.

    It is a mistake to ignore the successes of charter schools in communities of color today, throwing out the baby with the bath water because of the distrust (very warranted distrust) that we have of some of conservative stakeholders and supporters of charter schools.

    It is without a doubt a travesty that we overlook the political pressures that come from teacher’s unions and bureacracies and fail to acknowledge or question the investments that they’ve made in shooting down this issue.

    It is time for us to remember that our loyalties don’t lie with a political party, a type of school, or a specific faction, but that our loyalty lies with success for our children. Whatever party, school or law promotes that success – real time – deserves our support. This will require the ability to walk away from historical friendships, and yes, sometimes, join hands with folks from the other side of the aisle for the sake of policy that benefits our children.

    There are charter schools all across this country – where Black men who might have been in jail otherwise are now graduating and headed to college. There are charter schools run by Black men and women across the nation with afrocentric themes in areas where parents used to have to leave the neighborhood to find a decent school. Isn’t this what the movement was about? Isn’t this what Linda Brown wanted – to be able to go to a high quality school in her own backyard?

    There is no algebraic formula. We must be fluid and adaptable and ready to move our chess pieces strategically, not blindly according to a game plan from 1960 for 1960.

    Diary of A Mad Black Parent