Charter School Operators Must Lead With The Survival Of Charters In Mind

Bernie. SMH.

Two-time presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders separated from the fat pack of Democratic POTUS wannabes by [quite literally] taking a page out of the NAACP anti-charter school playbook and inserting it into his 10-point education plan.

Two weeks ago, Sen. Bro. Sanders called for an end to the unpopular for-profit charters that are unlawful in most states. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, few states offer for-profit charters which make up 15 percent of all charters throughout the United States. If he’d just stopped there. No, Brother Bernie in lockstep with the NAACP and by extension, the American Federation of Teachers, intends to cut public funding to charter schools and supports the moratorium on charter expansion.

Bro. Bernie in all his Vermont-ness channeled the misguided audacity of NAACP brass by promising to strangle the best, and often, only chance for millions of black and brown students to get the education they deserve.

Shameful. My friends say it best.

Carrying The Community On Your Shoulders

I grew up at a time where older generations of black women had no problem telling black girls that our individual actions impacts how the world sees us in the aggregate. It’s a heavy burden to carry the reputation of an entire race on your shoulders.

“…you must be responsible for the worst actions of other black bodies, which, somehow, will always be assigned to you.” – TaNehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

To wit, when you are a member of a minority that is constantly under attack, there is little room for error and scant availability of grace. And then the whole group pays for one person’s mistakes.

Let’s cut to the chase.

Many school boards around the country would rather approve a proposal to collectively cut off their noses than to approve one charter application. These boards are supported by hoards of middle class mostly white teachers and parents whose kids are likely doing alright and assure board members that their faces are just as great without the noses.

Under this brand of oppression, it stands to reason that when a charter is awarded, the school’s founder must willingly carry the weight of the responsibility of making sure every child is served excellence everyday and honor those who attempted and failed through no fault of their own. As a charter operator, you owe it every stakeholder in your orbit + failed and future operators to lead with fidelity.

So when I hear stories about charter Founders/operators that fail kids and mishandle funds, I have zero tolerance for that nonsense. The stakes for kids are too high, the appetite for charters schools is too low.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the charter vitriol from every corner of the county, we have some of the best charters in the country, but in this school year alone, we’ve had two schools make the news for criminal mismanagement of funds and failing their students. Fortunately for the city, but unfortunately for the students and families, New Vision Academy closed mid-year after it was discovered the founders/leaders husband-wife duo pocketed a combined half million dollars in salary while the school suffered.

This spring, a local charter high school, Knowledge Academies, released their founder/leader upon learning of his operating side hustles inside the building, using faculty who often went without paychecks for their real jobs! Worse, student achievement suffered mightily. Worse-worse, the school board hasn’t approved a charter in several years and will use these examples to continue their moratorium.

Unfortunately, Knowledge Academies will remain open but under new management, Noble Education. As a charter/choice advocate, maybe I should be more supportive of this move. That the board removed the problem and identified a plan to move forward should be enough. While I congratulate the board for acting in the best interest of students and teachers, I question its accountability up to this point.

Minority Matters

Charters schools are a minority, educating only 14 percent of all MNPS students, 3 percent statewide, and a measly 10 percent nationwide, but you wouldn’t know that by all the attention dedicated to them (see Bro. Bernie). I liken the unfair spotlight to that of a school district’s first black superintendent or a country’s first black president. There will be mistakes because no one is perfect, but the spotlight is unforgiving.

At the same time, as a minority you learn to navigate two sets of expectations and rise to those designated for you. Further, you accept the mantle/job/responsibility with the understanding that an entire community depends on you to get it right. Again, the stakes are too high.

I will end with a quote from the editorial team at Washington Post, that best summarizes my thoughts about the current narrative around charter schools:

“Charter schools are not a replacement for traditional schools, and not all charter schools are good. Bad ones should not be tolerated. But blanket calls to curtail charter schools are wrongheaded.”

I would add to that an appeal to current and future charter operators to respect the gift of being able to educate children and carry with dignity the weight of representing a national community. What you do in your school matters to the whole.

Just ask Bernie & Co.

3 thoughts on “Charter School Operators Must Lead With The Survival Of Charters In Mind

  1. The clearest choice for more choice, more charters, and that direction is re-election of Donald Trump. I’m not sure why any Democrat would get behind further fracturing of our stressed underfunded public education system….

    The Knowledge Academy debacle is yet another case suggesting autonomy, choice, and market forces are not sufficient inputs to public education.

    Your title “… Must Lead with the Survival of Charters in Mind” is slightly ironic to my ear. Was it not just a decade ago that Charter proponents were claiming that the MNPS district was more focused on the survival of bureaucratic jobs, over the well-being of children?

    If we all cared about quality for all kids, surely we’d all work better to avoid creating zoned schools of last resort across Nashville, attack the waitlists into racially unbalanced and score-segregated schools (Hume Fogg and MLK and Meigs) by cutting auto pathways, or by replicating their more focused academic programs inside our integrated/zoned schools. Why aren’t we all BEGGING for property tax corrections to get our teachers, staff, and first-responders supported in Nashville.

    Oh well, those simple collective directions are dead horses of the past Director’s transition plans, my further beating of which provides nothing new.

    I suppose we shall press on with anger and inaction, advocating for our little silos here and there, and in our confusion and anger, re-elect Mr. Trump to sort it all out.


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