After The Star’s recent editorial, “Does the Kansas City school district have too many charters?,” I would like to shed a more accurate light on the important contribution charter schools bring to the educational landscape in Kansas City.
Because they are public schools, charter schools accept all children, for free. They do offer special education services and serve English language learners. They do not recruit or cherry pick. They take their students as they come — gladly and with enthusiasm.
One Kansas City charter school focuses on kids who have dropped out of other high schools while others focus on a variety of impactful instructional programs, student interests and serving those with high need.
Of the nearly 12,000 students in a Kansas City charter school, 65 percent are African-American, 12 percent are white, 22 percent are Hispanic and 89 percent are eligible for free or low-cost lunches because their parents don’t make enough money.
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The schools are located throughout the city. Six charter high schools are east of Troost and two are west — and nearly all of the students in the two schools west of Troost are children of color.
While traditional public schools in Kansas City have been losing students to the surrounding suburbs (36 percent last school year), charter public school enrollment continues to increase. Parents who send their children to a charter are also four times more likely than a traditional Kansas City public school to keep their child enrolled. So, charter schools are giving parents a viable alternative to selling their homes and moving to the suburbs. Maybe more importantly, they are giving a viable alternative to parents who don’t have a home to sell and cannot afford to make that move.
Kansas City charter schools are delivering results. The state’s Annual Performance Report scores do not provide an accurate picture when comparing an entire school district to individual charter schools. Overall, our charter schools strongly outperform peer public schools. The top-performing city public schools with no entry criteria are charter schools. Among grade school children, seven of the top 10 public schools in English proficiency and six out of the top 10 schools in math are charter schools.
The charter school community strongly believes that everyone involved in public education should be held accountable: teachers, principals, superintendents, schools boards, districts and, yes, charter schools and their sponsors. Charter schools have accepted the huge and sometimes daunting responsibility of educating children who were not growing academically in their prior school setting.
For far too long, we have told parents who cannot afford to move to find a better school that they have no choice but to send their kids to terrible schools. That is incredibly unjust and for me just plain heartbreaking. So, if a charter school does not perform, we want it closed. This has occurred with charter schools and the same should occur for other poor performing public schools. This is the ultimate in accountability.
Making kids move to a better school is a far better idea than sentencing them to a life of poverty because they got a lousy education.
I agree with the editorial that, “going forward, Kansas City should learn from the successes of top-performing charters.” The charter schools stand ready to collaborate with other public education entities when it is in the best interest of all the children — increasing access to quality schools, sharing best practices in instruction and operations and working together toward achieving strategic institutional planning.
The stakes are very high. Kansas City needs good public schools to educate its children, reduce income and racial disparities, keep families in the city, and create a workforce to compete in the global economy. As we decide the right public policy for our children, it is important to set aside the adult issues of jobs, budgets, control and politics, and focus on what works for our children. We who believe in charter schools stand ready to do our part.
Douglas P. Thaman is executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association.