School should be a place of promise and hope, where children come to learn, imagine, and be endowed with skills which will enable them to not only exist but excel in their desired career paths and future livelihood. For many black students across the country, that idea of school is wholly unfamiliar and seemingly nonexistent. Black children are more likely to be expelled from schools and disciplined more harshly for behaviors exhibited by other students, even as early as preschool. Multiple studies have revealed this bias, which correlates with a lack of educators and administrators of color, and since, some efforts have been made to correct these disparities, including programs from the federal government, like President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.
Likewise, charter schools are a development that has grown in popularity in recent years, and touted as a true alternative to the spate of problems faced by public schools. Charters maintain freedom from many laws governing traditional public schools and are run independently, though public charters are, by law, open to all children and don’t enforce special requirements for entrance.
Within the last 20 or so years, charters have rapidly expanded throughout the United States and generated support from public and private parties alike, which espouse its high test scores and noticeably different organizational culture. In comparison to traditional public schools, charters have been deemed as more valuable and better suited to address the needs of America’s declining education system.
This has resulted in the shuttering of public schools across the country, most remarkably in areas that are also marred by socioeconomic inequality like, Philadelphia, Detroit, and my city, New Orleans, where nearly all schools in the city are charter schools, as a result of reform following the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. The problems resulting from this shift become more acute when the philosophies of charters are studied with a more critical eye. Recent research from UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies revealed that the argument of the exceptional charter school is built on harsh disciplinary practices which target black children, and discrimination against children with disabilities. A quarter of all students at more than 300 charter schools were suspended during the academic year, a large number of them black. And for students with disabilities, the rate of suspension is an incredible 10 times higher than those without.
Perhaps this issue could be overlooked if it was isolated, but with over 1,000 schools in the study carrying out these same practices, it appears to be intrinsic to the operations and philosophy of this alleged alternative. What we have is hundreds of kids being excluded from the opportunities promised to them as not just students, but the future of our country and increasingly global society. Instead of preparing children in the most vulnerable parts of our communities with tools for success, we’re removing them entirely and exacerbating the issues of our lopsided system. It is not only unfair, it is dangerous, and we all must work to find real solutions to rectify this growing epidemic of an ill-prepared and unnurtured populace.