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To Charter of Not to Charter

At the Brooklyn charter school where I worked this fall, posters encourage students to "Read, Baby, Read" and "Climb the Mountain to College." College banners adorn the halls and classrooms are named for teachers' alma maters. The clear message to the school's exclusively black and Latino (and mostly poor) students: You deserve an excellent education. Now. 

As a woman of color, I wholeheartedly agree. But are charters-- a legacy of the school choice movement  born in the post-integration South, where  white parents sent their children to private,  state-funded "segregation academies"--the right vehicle? 
Even prior to coming to TC,  I knew the debate. Proponents say  charters' small size promotes more meaningful interactions between students, teachers and administrators-- and thus better student performance. Critics call charters a disinvestment in public schools. Citing the lack of evidence that charters raise student achievement, they ask: Why operate unproven schools for children who desperately need quality education? 
Yet with charters proliferating, I reflected  that they might, after all, enable  parents, educators, community-based organizations and others to shape the education of their children. 

Then I learned about the many charter "chains" run by Education Management Organizations (EMOs), whose managers typically are neither from economically disadvantaged  backgrounds nor of color. Now I'm researching how white-run EMOs arrive at their vision for charters whose  student bodies are entirely black  and/or Latino; how the community can  better influence school governance; and  why, given all the question marks, blacks and Latinos aren't more skeptical about charters. A  parent seeking  to enroll her child at a new charter  school gave me one answer to that question: "If my child can't get into this school," she said, "where else can he get a good education?"

 Janine Rudder is a master's degree candidate  in Sociology and Education (with a policy  concentration) at Teachers College.

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