A Washington state charter school mother from West Seattle is one of six signatories on a special letter from a national advocacy group to the NAACP, urging the venerable civil rights organization to steer away from approving a suggested moratorium on new charter schools nationwide. The NAACP board will vote on the advisory resolution at its meeting this Saturday, October 15.
A Lifeline For Students Of Color
Shirline Wilson, 48, of West Seattle, is African-American, as are the other signers of the letter from Charters Work, and she says the NAACP is off-base because her own experience shows charter schools can be a lifeline for students of color who are poorly served by traditional public schools.
The Charters Work NAACP letter signers join another 160 education leaders from the Black Alliance For Educational Options and the National Alliance For Public School Options – representing more than 700,000 black families – who in September also wrote to the NAACP urging them away from the moratorium stand.
Disruption Of Established Order
The tussle comes as disruption to the established order of K-12 education by charter schools nationwide has earned an investment of $245 million more in charters from the federal government, and sparked a worried response from status quo defenders.
That response includes the second lawsuit in as many years against charter schools in Washington state, by a coalition of labor unions, advocacy groups and administrators of traditional public schools.
Over tea at a bakery in the quiet Wildwood micro-business district of West Seattle, down the street from the Fauntleroy ferry dock, Wilson tells a reporter it became clear early on that Seattle Public Schools (SPS) could not educate her son Miles. He is now 12 and thriving as a sixth-grader at Rainier Prep Public Charter School in Highline, just south of Seattle.
Son Quickly Shunted Into Special Ed
In first grade at an SPS school in Arbor Heights, Miles was quickly classified as having attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorders, and shunted into the special education program. What he really needed was a chance to learn in a more hands-on manner, Wilson said. That was what he got for the next three years at a Montessori school.
Unlike the upper-income cohort, families with limited means cannot easily afford K-12 private schools and private colleges, and hard choices have to be made to maximize gains in the crucial elementary and middle school years, said Wilson.
Rainier Prep, a charter which opened in 2015, serving mostly minority students in fifth through eighth grades, benefits from strong leadership, educational rigor and a clear focus on pathways to college, said Wilson. She added, that made it the right choice for her son.
‘I Should Be Able To Fire My Child’s School’
“Education is a marketplace and consumers deserve the highest quality at the most equitable price. There is a disconnect now…I should be able to fire my child’s school and take my business to another if he is not getting the education he needs,” said Wilson.
Education is now “the big civil rights issue” and rather than urge there be no new charter schools, the NAACP should “declare a moratorium on the failure to provide equal access to quality education,” Wilson said.
It’s Not About Institutional Preservation
The focus needs to be “not on preserving a certain type of institution, but on the rights of taxpayers and families,” according to Wilson. In joining the Charters Work letter to the NAACP, Wilson says she is saying, “hold on a second, this is working” for her family.
The Washington Charter Schools Association reported that in 2015-2016 school year results on state academic achievement tests, sixth-graders at Rainier Prep met or exceeded grade-level standards at a far higher rate than their cohorts in the local schools district, in both English and math. Excel Public Charter School in Kent and another public charter in Washington, Spokane International Academy, produced similar results.
‘Remarkable Strides Toward College Readiness’
The association’s CEO Tom Franta said in a statement, “These remarkable strides toward college readiness are proof points for our schools, and for the hundreds of advocates who fought to reinstate the charter public school law in Washington. Our collective goal is to ensure that historically underserved communities gain and maintain access to the high-quality public schools their children deserve.”
Studies Show Benefits For At-Risk Students
In Massachusetts, where voters next month will decide whether to lift a state cap on adding new charter schools in urban regions, a recent report from the Brookings Institution states, “…a deep well of rigorous, relevant research…shows that charter schools in the urban areas of Massachusetts have large, positive effects on educational outcomes. The effects are particularly large for disadvantaged students, English learners, special education students, and children who enter charters with low test scores.”
A California report based on data from the two largest state public university systems and all public high schools in the state shows that charters boost outcomes for “minority, low-income and first-generation college-going students” through more rigorous academic preparation which helps students get into more competitive postsecondary institutions than if they had attended traditional public high schools. The creation of what the report calls a “college-going culture” at public charter high schools was found to be key.
A 2015 study of 41 metro regions by Stanford University’s Center For Research On Education Outcomes found that “urban charter schools in the aggregate provide significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading compared to their (traditional public school) peers.”
The prior lawsuit against Washington charters was upheld by the State Supreme Court in September 2015 and threw the new school year into chaos.
Supporters rallied in Olympia frequently and in large numbers. They convinced legislators to approve a new state law establishing a new funding source from state lottery revenues, rather than the general fund. The bill was approved with bipartisan support and allowed to stand by Governor Jay Inslee.
In response to the latest lawsuit, former Washington Attorney General and Seattle attorney Rob McKenna is representing Washington public charters, and 12 parents and their children have filed motions as intervenors, citing the benefits of the schools. The defendants are seeking dismissal of the legal case.