Op-Ed

Charter schools closing achievement gaps in many urban areas

Joel Adams
Joel Adams

I think we can all agree that a great education is a ticket to the American Dream. Every child deserves the chance at an education that will prepare them for a good job, a bright future, and a prosperous life.

But for many children in Kentucky, the odds of getting that education depends entirely on where they live or their family’s ability to pay for an alternative to their assigned school.

This week, lawmakers in Kentucky are considering allowing a new type public school — charter schools — that could help change that.

We all support and believe in our local schools, and they serve most kids well, but the fact is that our education statistics are stagnant and in some areas, grim. Six out of 10 Kentucky fourth graders aren’t performing at grade level in math on the Nation’s Report Card. One in three eighth graders can’t do basic grade-level math.

How can this be acceptable if we want them to do well in an increasingly tech-centric world where the jobs of the future demand such knowledge? With every year that we ignore this, another group of kids gets short-changed.

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are open to all students and that allow parents to put their children in a learning environment that fits their particular needs.

Kentucky is one of only seven states nationwide without charter schools. We have the unique opportunity to learn from the best practices of 43 states and over 25 years of national experience in charter schooling. We know what works, and we know how to avoid potential pitfalls.

Charter schools have a strong track record; and a look at some of the nation’s top charter schools offers promising data. In 2013, 98 percent of African-American students who attended Achievement First charter schools in Connecticut scored an average of 200 points higher on the SAT, used for college admissions, than African-American students nationwide.

And while Chicago continues to garner headlines for its ongoing spike in violent crime, one charter school for boys, Urban Prep, is defying the odds.

All of Urban Prep’s students are African-American and for seven years in a row, 100 percent if its seniors have gone on to college. Here you have young black men growing up in one of the most challenging urban environments in the nation attending a school where all are going to college — because of hard work, the freedom to innovate and the unwavering enforcement of a standard of achievement and an expectation of success that many charters champion.

Schools like Urban Prep are one of the reasons charter schools have been proven to help close the achievement gap for minority students. They show that with the right school environment, all students can learn and finish school ready for college or a career.

Students enrolled in the BASIS Charter Schools (located in Arizona, Texas, Louisiana and Washington, D.C.), have scored higher than any students in the world on an international test of reading, math and science. They ranked ahead of China, Japan and Korea, as well prestigious U.S. private schools.

Finally, a 2014 study from Mathematica Policy Research showed that public charter-school graduates are more likely to stay in college and have higher earnings in early adulthood.

Lawmakers have a responsibility to make sure that all children can attend a school that can prepare them for the world. But that’s not happening for many children today. When I look at what charter schools are offering to families around the country, I want Kentucky children to have those same opportunities. I’m glad to see that Kentucky’s legislature is taking up this issue and putting kids first.

Joel Adams is with the Kentucky Charter School Project, a coalition of state and national organizations.

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