Let’s Get Real About Charters

Charter schools and public education have been the focus of increased national attention lately and I’m proud that Tennessee is often held up as a model of how charter public schools can work for families.

Our charter schools provide high quality public school options to Tennessee families while operating with strict accountability and transparency standards. I’m proud of the work that our state has done to become a model for how public education can serve students, and in particular, students of color.

As a longtime Memphian, pastor and resident in the Whitehaven community, I was taken back by the NAACP’s national board as they adopted a moratorium on new charter public schools last October. To the NAACP’s credit, they are now embarking on a series of town halls to talk about education and charter schools, and they will be in Memphis this week.

I’m hoping this opportunity will be the start of a real dialogue with the NAACP to find common ground and discover ways we can work together to make sure that all public schools are working for our students.

To be real, this conversation has to be open to all those who have a stake in charter schools and that includes parents and students in the charter community. To be real, this conversation also has to be honest. I hope to see a conversation, not solely on faults, but on the strengths and possibilities that charters have to offer and ways that together we can work to improve all public schools.

Like traditional public schools, charters are free, and they are open to all students. Charters are funded with public dollars, and as a result, they are accountable to the same state and national standards as traditional public schools. In fact, Tennessee is known for setting the bar very high for its charters and is considered a model nationally.

We know that charters can improve their record of advancing integration. We would very much like to work with the NAACP and other like-minded organizations on this issue.

A national study recently compared African-American students in public charter schools with their peers in traditional public schools. The researchers found that the charter school students achieved 36 extra days of learning in reading and 26 extra days of learning in math compared to the non-charter school students.

When researchers looked at the achievement of low-income African-American students in charter schools, they found even bigger advances. These students learned the equivalent of 44 extra days of learning in reading and an astonishing 59 extra days learning in math as compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools.

We want to be part of the NAACP’s charter conversation to make sure that this side of the charter story is told. But that’s not the only reason. We want to be part of the conversation because we believe there is actually a lot of common ground that we share with organizations like the NAACP.

Let’s have a real conversation, so that we can find that common ground. Then we can work together on the real task: combining our voices to make it loud and clear that we want equal opportunity for all our students.

Rev. Percy Hunter is pastor of Christ United Baptist Church, a parent and community coordinator of Green Dot Public Schools in Memphis. He can be reached at percy.hunter@greendot.org. 

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