Education equity an ’empty notion’ for charter school kids

Aug 25, 2020 by

Madeline Black is the superintendent of WAY Academies, a network of charter schools in Detroit and Flint.

Madeline Black –

On the surface, the concept is a simple and obvious one: Every child in Detroit deserves to be treated equitably. Every child deserves a great education, and access to the same opportunities. And yet, that’s not at all how it works.

How you’re treated depends in large part on what type of school your family has chosen for you. If you’re in a traditional public school, you get more money, more assets, more resources. If you’re in a charter public school, you get less money, less assets, less resources.

That’s been the case since the first charter school opened in Michigan in 1994, and it’s only gotten worse. If you’re a charter school family in Detroit, “equity” is nothing but an empty notion.

It’s not fair, it’s not right and it’s devastating to our students. If a family decides that a charter school is the best option for their child, they’re immediately treated as something lesser. Their choice is not respected and their child is valued less.

Last fall, charter school students — and charter school students alone — were singled out for a $240-per-pupil cut by the governor. By the time the money was finally restored a few months later, responsible but painful cuts had already been made, eliminating much-needed teachers, programs and resources.

And then the COVID-19 crisis hit, and charter school students were singled out again. The formula used to distribute funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided tens of millions of dollars more for the traditional public schools in Detroit, amounting to three times as much on a per student basis — money the district then used to try and lure charter teachers away. (At least they know talent when they see it.)

Yet another example: When private industry rightly recognized that students in Detroit were badly in need of devices and technology for their COVID-19 remote learning, they offered millions of dollars to help. A wonderful gesture — but the money only went to the traditional public schools. Half the students in Detroit attend charter schools, but they didn’t receive a thing. Don’t they deserve technology security, too?

So you’ll have to forgive charter school families if they scoff at the notion of “equity.” Seemingly at every turn, they’re being told that their children are worth less in the eyes of education decision makers.

The solution, of course, is just as simple as the concept: Every child deserves to be treated equitably. Every child in Detroit has dreams of a brilliant future. Why would we intentionally hold half of them back? Students want to be in a great school that’s providing them a great education. They don’t care how the school is set up, so why should we?

Treat all students fairly. Show them that “equity” is more than just a hollow promise. If you’re allocating funding or resources or technology or whatever, make sure that all students matter, that all students have access to the same opportunities to grow and learn.

It’s worth nothing that when it comes to academic performance in Detroit, charter schools lead the way. By any metric — academic growth, SAT scores, graduation rates, college enrollment — charter schools are the highest-performing schools in the city.

Charter schools don’t lag behind when it comes to performance, so why should they lag behind when it comes to equity? What could they accomplish with equitable funding and resources?

And speaking of equity, it’s important to realize that parents deserve equitable choices, as well. We need to make sure they have a robust selection of quality school choices in the city. And we need to make sure that all of those schools have access to the same funding and resources.

The time has come for this “us vs. them” debate to end. We’re all “us.” As a city, we have so much ground to make up when it comes to education. We’ve made some significant strides, but we have so much more to do.

We can’t hold half the students in our city behind. We can’t deny them the funding and resources they need to succeed just because we don’t like the type of school they attend.

It’s time to show all of our students and families that they matter. Their choices matter. Their education matters. Their future matters.

Source: Madeline Black: Education equity an ’empty notion’ for charter school kids

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