Throughout time, we have endured much as Mississippians; times when fear ruled the land, times of upheaval and outright war, times of widespread civic unrest. More than a few of these conflagrations of the human spirit have centered around one essential contention: the opposing beliefs as to who can and cannot be a member of our democracy.
Perhaps as remarkable as the idea of democracy is the fact that Mississippians have shown a consistently uncanny ability to emerge from the embers of these struggles stronger, more united, more democratic, and more American.
The current debate over charter schools has the hefty potential to be no different.
Despite the language of the legislation being considered and regardless of how that legislation will look one month or six weeks from now, the driving idea behind charter schools is that a school under its own authority and with its own set of standards and procedures is inherently “better” than a traditional public school that is under the purview of the laws of the state.
If some fair and objective data existed that backed this idea with compelling evidence, we would certainly be having a different conversation. Instead, the data proves just the opposite. According to a Stanford University study completed in September of 2011, in which 2,403 charter schools were included across fifteen states, including the Deep South, 46% showed gains in mathematics that were equal to those of their traditional public school counterparts and only 17% showed growth that was “significantly higher” than their traditional counterparts.
In Mississippi, much has been made by the proponents of charters about the “success” of the KIPP charter schools in the Arkansas Delta. Much has not been made of the recent Western Michigan University study that found that 40% of KIPP’s African-American males dropout between grades 6-8. Surely this is not success.
Charter schools — while funded with the public’s money — are not open to all children, thus mocking the hopes and wishes of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a “system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest.”
If Mr. Jefferson were alive today, perhaps he would see the charter school debate as a profound opportunity to reflect on what we have endured as a state and as a country — and why we have endured it. Perhaps he would want us to recognize the economic and racial boundaries that we have allowed to form in our schools and, therefore, in our communities.
Certainly and above all, he would want to remind each and every one of us of our right and responsibility to be continuously involved in any enterprise that is supported by our tax dollars.
Each of the one-hundred-and-fifty-two public school districts in our state can be as good as our community members want them to be or as bad as our community members allow them to be. To accept statewide parental involvement as hopeless idealism is to accept democracy as hopeless idealism. Surely this is not the path that we are called to take.
Let us return to public education.
Please urge your Congressmen to vote “NO” on House Bill 888.