By: Denise Nance Pierce
For many Texas kids of color, the promise of a quality public education remains elusive. The achievement gap that separates African-American, Hispanic and children in poverty from their Caucasian and affluent peers remains a stubborn, disappointing fact in our public schools. Texas school districts work hard every day to clobber this achievement gap, and their efforts are commendable.
Another bright spot in public education is the growing number of high quality public charter schools, which also are striking fiercely to pummel the achievement gap. Statewide, there are nearly 250,000 students enrolled on 629 public charter school campuses, with almost 130,000 students on waiting lists. In Austin, about 18,500 charter school students are being served on 50 charter school campuses, with over 10,000 students on waiting lists.
What’s particularly notable about the state’s public charter schools, and those in the City of Austin, is that they serve a higher proportion of economically disadvantaged and minority students than traditional public school districts – a fact that reveals the heart of these schools to level the playing field for poor, minority students.
Not only do charter schools serve more poor and minority students, but also charter schools increasingly are getting the job done with these students. Across Texas, African-American, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students in charter schools are outperforming their peers at traditional school districts in reading. Across the country, a 2015 Stanford study found that African American students in charter schools gained thirty-six more days of knowledge in reading and twenty-six extra days of math skills than African-American students in traditional public schools.
It is results like these that explain why community education advocates like me are such strong supporters of charter schools. And these same results make disappointing the recent ratification by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for a moratorium on all new public charter schools in the U.S.
The NAACP issued a statement in which Chairman Roslyn M. Brock states, “Our decision today is driven by a long held principle and policy of the NAACP that high quality, free, public education should be afforded to all children.” Further, the NAACP calls for this moratorium until “charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools and public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system.”
Given what I have seen public charters accomplish in Texas communities for children, I am frustrated by the results of the vote and unclear statements came from the NAACP on this matter.
Once again, charter schools are public schools and have been for more than 20 years. Texas charter schools are subject to open government laws, open records laws, and the same academic and financial standards as other public schools. In fact, Texas’ accountability system is more rigorous for charter schools than their traditional school district counterparts, shutting down charter schools that fail to meet state standards for three consecutive years. No such requirement exists for school districts.
That said, I deeply respect and value the NAACP’s decades-long fight for adequate public schools in communities of color. As a life member of Austin’s NAACP Chapter, I appreciate its strong, consistent voice calling for schools that serve all kids equally. I stand with the NAACP in its demand for excellent public schools for all kids, but I cannot stand with them on their moratorium against new charter schools.
Public charter schools work, and we need more. They have helped us make progress in giving children of color the education they need to climb the ladder of opportunity to succeed in college, in career and in life. In many African American neighborhoods, they have become community anchors, offering not only a quality education but also needed services and resources.
Now is the time for supporters of public education to push harder to ensure that all public schools – public charter schools and traditional school districts– deliver an equitable education for our kids. I certainly am going to push to achieve this goal. I hope the NAACP will reconsider and join me.
Denise Nance Pierce is an Austin attorney who represents public charter schools and was formerly the TCSA General Counsel from 2009-15. Also, she is the mother of two Austin High School graduates and of an 8th grader at Clint Small Middle School. Follow Denise on Twitter where she equally uses the hashtags #charterswork and #AISDProud.