With more and more parents across the nation viewing public charter schools as their schools of choice, the question must be asked how well these innovative and independent public schools are serving children.
Recently, a leading education research center at Stanford University released a comprehensive study looking at the academic performance of students in public charter schools compared to their traditional school peers in 27 states.
The results of this study deliver promising news for students in Mississippi whose needs are not currently being met, especially for the two-thirds of our public school students who are growing up in poverty. Across the nation, charter school students living in poverty gain the equivalent of an extra 14 days of instruction in reading and 22 days in math each year compared to their traditional public school counterparts. African-American students in poverty who attend charter schools see an even larger gain with the equivalent of an additional 29 days of learning in reading and 36 days in math per year when compared to their traditional public school counterparts.
These findings, showing public charter schools are better serving students who are most in need, are not alone. Since 2010, four national studies and 11 regional studies from across the country found positive academic performance results for students in charter schools compared to their traditional school peers.
Of course, the most important measure of a transformational education is whether or not students are graduating prepared for college and career.
How do public charter schools fit in that equation? Mississippians must ask that question, especially considering we have one of the lowest social mobility rates in the nation.
Last month, Mathematica Policy Research announced some preliminary research results that measured the effects of charter schools on long-term educational attainment and subsequent earnings of public charter school students. They found significant evidence that charter schools are increasing educational attainment and are boosting long-term earnings of students.
A colleague once remarked that anyone who thinks they have the 100 percent solution to public education has not humbled themselves to the complexity of the problem. When, according to the ACT, Mississippi has the lowest percentage of students – 12 percent – who graduate from high school college-ready, and that number is even lower – two percent – for African American students, we have a complex problem.
Too often in Mississippi we lack a real sense of urgency in implementing national best practices, even if these best practices will transform the lives of kids in our communities.
Thankfully, we have parents and community leaders who are demanding better. Responding to this demand, 19 groups aspiring to open public charter schools submitted letters of intent to the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board last month, and about 80 percent of these groups represent the African American community.
Most of the traditional school districts where some of these schools hope to open have seen a steady decline in student enrollment. If a community’s public education system struggles, that community struggles. These community leaders have the fortitude and discernment to relate the health of their public schools to the health of their community, and they see high-quality, public charter schools as a way to end the cycle of poverty for many of their students. Opening high-quality charters in these districts can help to bring back families into the community and inspire improvements in our public school system as a whole.
Public charter schools are part of a range of solutions that will enable every child in Mississippi to have access to a great education. When research shows that quality charter schools have a positive effect on educational attainment of low-income and African American students, we in Mississippi have a moral imperative to take note.
Erika Berry is executive director of the Mississippi Charter Schools Association. Contact her at www.mscharterschools.org.