Recognizing black- and Latino-led charter schools

Across the country, students of color are disproportionately trapped in failing schools, but community leaders are stepping up to make a difference. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is holding an event Monday — “Charting a New Path Forward: The Rise of Black and Latino-Led Charter Schools” — to hear from the leaders of some of the highest performing black- and Latino-led charters to highlight schools led by people of color.

Ron Rice, senior director of government relations with NAPCS, said the event is about highlighting community leaders who are thinking outside the box and closing the achievement gap that many communities see between white students and students of color. The event is also about recognizing the communities that support these schools.

Philadelphia's Renaissance Initiative overhauls lowest-performing schools.

Philadelphia’s Renaissance Initiative overhauls the city’s lowest-performing schools.

“(The event is) to highlight that it’s not just individual black and Latino leaders,” Rice told Watchdog in an interview, “but this is a growing trend in the black and Latino communities and even the Native American communities.”

Individuals and communities are stepping up, and so are the institutions that represent them. “For instance,” Rice said, “you have fraternal organizations such as 100 Black Men of America coming together to start charter schools, you have Delta Theta Sigma sorority alumni chapter starting a charter school in Detroit, you have La Raza under a subset of their organization starting a charter school.” This is significant, Rice said, because it indicates that the future of charter schools lies within communities across America. “I really think that the future, to meet the demand of parents across the nation, when you have a million kids on waiting lists to get into schools, really lies in folks from those communities, institutions from those communities, really using charter schools to define the trajectory of the students that live in those communities.”

When students succeed, communities succeed, and charter schools have been proven to close the achievement gap. “We don’t have a silver bullet,” Rice said, “but one would be foolish not to look at the trends that are happening at a number of charter schools in general and, specifically, those run by black and Latino and native american leaders that are really showing progress.” Urban Prep in Chicago, for example, not only graduates 100 percent of the young men they enroll from rough neighborhoods, but all of them attend college. “That’s closing the achievement gap,” he said.

Rice argues that when communities see leaders come back to their own neighborhoods, “I think you’re going to see a greater acceptance and appreciation of that particular model that transforms the trajectory of opportunities for people throughout the nation.”

There’s a misconception, Rice said, that the charter school movement is “some kind of white-led, corporate-structured kind of thing that is philanthropically supported.” Through events such as Charting a New Path Forward, NAPCS hopes to raise awareness of “African-American and Latino folks from the community and Native American folks from the community who saw a problem of inadequate education opportunities for their young people and they did something about it. They picked the fastest-growing public school model in America, and that’s charter schools, in order to deliver a brand of learning and education delivery that is out of the box and is actually showing achievement and showing real results.”

Photo by: Shutterstock

Photo by: Shutterstock

Not only are they showing results, they’re achieving more with fewer resources. Rice said that charter schools are getting 70 cents on the dollar compared with traditional public schools  “Looking at the future of the charter school movement with African-American and Latino school leaders just plain working their hands to the bone to create really good, high-performing charter schools that are closing the achievement gap and making a difference in the community and engaging the community where they are.”

It’s worth it, he said, because this gives them the opportunity to work with others to improve circumstances on a grassroots level, for the students whose needs they know best. “These schools engage the communities that they’re in as partners for change, and as partners for defining what those schools should look like, so they’re more community-based, if you will, than even traditional public schools.”

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