As I See It: Excellence regardless of demographics

Date Published: 
October 30, 2016
Author: 
Cheryl Brown Henderson, Guest Opinion, Worcester Telegram
News Type: 

Education "is the most important function of state and local government ... It is doubtful that any child can be reasonably expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity ... is a right that must be made available to all on equal terms.”

Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 school desegregation case in which my father was the named plaintiff, is usually remembered for striking down the doctrine of “separate but equal” schools. But I believe this excerpt captures the ruling’s true meaning.

Charter public schools in Boston and across Massachusetts are making Brown’s equal opportunity mandate a reality, providing genuine educational opportunity that creates economic options.

They are also proving that excellence is possible in public schools regardless of demographics. Massachusetts charter schools are a national model, and have earned the support of state voters who will go to the polls to determine if more charters should be allowed in the lowest-performing districts.

A 2015 study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), found that academic growth among Boston charter students is more than four times that of their traditional public school peers in English and more than six times greater in math. The charter students outperform their district school counterparts across every category, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, English language learners, low-income and special education students. A 2013 CREDO report found Boston charter schools were doing more to narrow the race and poverty-based achievement gap than any other group of schools in the country.

Traditional public school administrators should be asking charter leaders how they, too, can transform the lives of children thought to be left behind. Instead, too many look for ways to find fault with another form of public education that is proving to be successful.

I’m particularly saddened by suggestions of area civil rights organizations that charter schools aren’t succeeding and siphon resources from the larger system. These are all public schools. The criticism amounts to scapegoating children and families who believe charters represent their best option.

This approach reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how society functions; a lack of understanding that all of us pay the price for those who fail. There is no us against them, there is only us.

Under Brown, there should be no second-class citizens. But our education system today ensures that second-class citizens walk among us -- people who can’t read, can’t write or do math, and lack the skills to be the citizens Horace Mann envisioned in pioneering public education.

Education is hard work; it is not for the faint of heart.But as Horace Mann said, education is the great equalizer of the condition of individuals. Without it there would be no doctors, no lawyers, no scientists or architects.

The performance of Boston and Massachusetts charter schools is a reminder that we know how to educate children; what we sometimes lack is the political will to do it. Massachusetts voters have the opportunity to stiffen the backbones of their elected leaders in November by approving Question 2 to allow more high-performing charters in the places that need them most.

-- Cheryl Brown Henderson of Topeka, Kansas is president of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Research. Her father, the Rev. Oliver L. Brown, was a lead plaintiff in the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case.