“Thank God for Mississippi!” That was our cry when I lived in Atlanta and something bad was reported. After all, just about everything was worse in Mississippi. Now Californians concerned about their children’s education might want to take up that cry as well.
Education Week issued its 2014 Quality Counts report last week. The good news is that, reliably, Mississippi has a firm hold as the worst state for education outcomes. The bad news is that California’s children aren’t far behind.
According to the report, California schools’ academic achievement in grades K-12 rates a D+ grade. Overall, 31 states rate better, including Georgia, Texas and New Jersey. In California, fewer than 33 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in mathematics and just more than a quarter are proficient in reading. These are dismal numbers, measured in lives doomed to poverty and illiteracy.
The best news is that there is now some accountability for the knowledge and skills students acquire, and that a quality education is available to more of our children. The rapidly growing numbers of public charter schools, celebrated this week during National School Choice Week, deliver that kind of education.
Charter schools are public schools, tuition-free and open to all, which have the flexibility to be more innovative, in exchange for being held accountable for improved student achievement. They aren’t tied down by the red tape of a centralized school district bureaucracy, teacher union work rules or the numerous laws contained in the California Education Code (now several volumes thick).
The result is a number of competing local schools from which parents can choose the right one for their child.
No longer are some students forced to attend underperforming schools while others attend schools with outstanding learning outcomes. No longer do public school students have to struggle if their learning styles don’t fit the one-size-fits-all model of their school district. No longer do these students leave school unprepared for available jobs or post-high school learning.
Charter schools work. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, children who attend charter schools are more likely to graduate from high school than their traditional school peers. Moreover, dozens of charter schools across the country have 100 percent college acceptance rates, including Thurgood Marshall Academy in the center of urban Washington, D.C., (my nephew is a graduate).
More importantly, of 16 academic studies published on charter school performance since 2010, 15 found that students in charter schools do better than those in traditional schools. Last year, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes found that public charter schools do a better job teaching low-income students, minority students and English learners than do traditionally regulated public schools.
Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City is one of those high performing schools. Featured in the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” 96 percent of Summit’s graduates are admitted to a four-year college. In addition, every Summit student receives a personalized education that include six advanced placement courses and at least one AP test prior to graduation.
Yet, Summit’s students arrive with slightly lower test scores than those of their peers in other local high schools. With that disadvantage, they still manage to perform well above the state’s measure of students in a successful school. They simply learn more.
Why is this? Kevin Bock, a chemistry teacher at Everest Public High School, sums it up, saying that Summit Schools (six in the Bay Area, all of which rank in the state’s top 20 percent) are “close-knit communities where we know our students so well that we’re able to support all of them. Students are constantly receiving personalized, individualized instruction and support. We won’t let anyone fall through the cracks.”
During National School Choice Week, let’s decide to bring more of these quality public charter schools to districts across our state. Let’s not be satisfied with mediocre schools that fail to prepare students for life. We are all responsible for our public schools, whether we have children in them or not.
A quality education is the right of every child, from every neighborhood, no matter if they live in Hillsborough or North Fair Oaks. California’s strength — our future — is in our schools. It’s not enough to be satisfied with saying “thank God for Mississippi” while children in 31 states outperform our own. It’s time for more parental choice in education. It’s time for more public charter schools.
John McDowell is a longtime county resident having first moved to San Carlos in 1963. In the intervening years, he has worked as a political volunteer and staff member in local, state and federal government, including time spent as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and in the George W. Bush administration.