10 Reasons Why Mississippi Needs Charter Schools

02/02/2013

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by Matthew Lynch, Ed.D.

Though the recent Mississippi Senate passage of legislation to establish charter schools may appear a victory to proponents, we have been here before. Last year similar legislation passed the Senate and died in the House Education Committee, dashing any hopes of a potential boost in K-12 educational achievement provided by charter schools.

I attended traditional public schools in this great state, and have also taught in a few really exceptional ones. Despite my good experiences in the traditional public school model, the statistics tell me that the vast majority of our young students are not being given the educational foundation they deserve. As this paramount education decision heads over to the House of Representatives, consider these points when it comes to the issue of charter schools in Mississippi:

 

Mississippi currently fails in educating K- 12 students. For years
Mississippi has ranked at the bottom of national lists when it comes to
K-12 achievement. Most recently, Education Week gave a D+ grade to
the state when it comes to chance for success of K-12 students. The
publication went on to give the state an F when it comes to building and
support capacity. Traditional public schools in the state are clearly
overextended and charter schools can help alleviate some of the
educational burden.

Competition improves quality. The public school system in Mississippi
has had years to improve on its own and clearly this time has been
proven unsuccessful. Instead of focusing on true educational reform, too much time
has been wasted on issues of pay and program budgets. Charter schools
will force public schools to improve or lose their students.

Charter schools provide higher success rates for low-income students.
Studies consistently find that students from low-income backgrounds excel in charter school environments. Without the constraints of traditional public school red tape, teachers are able to better reach students.

Charter schools are public institutions. There seems to be a common
misconception that charter schools are private schools. In truth, charter
schools are public schools that are held accountable for student achievement and must abide by
state educational laws. Also, charter schools in Mississippi will be not-for-profit
organizations.

Lower student-to-teacher ratios improve success. The top five performing
charter schools in the nation, as reported by U.S. News, have a student-teacher ratio of 17:1 or
lower. The top four on the list have a college readiness score of 100
percent, and the fifth school has a college readiness rating of 93.8
percent. In contrast, Mississippi district elementary schools have a student-teacher ratio of 22:1.

Academic success leads to a higher quality workforce. Students that
receive a high quality K-12 education have a fighting chance at making a
better life for themselves. On the flip side, students that receive a
sub-par education are more likely to fall victim to generational poverty
and even incarceration. In 2011, the U.S. Census reported
that just 19.7 percent of Mississippi's residents had a bachelor's
degree or higher; the national average was 28.2 percent. The same report
showed 21.6 percent of Mississippi residents living below the poverty
line, while the national average is 14.3 percent. How can students that
come from homes of underachievement and attend schools that underperform
be expected to make something more of their lives? Charter schools give
them a fighting chance, at least.

Teaching to the test is virtually nonexistent in charter schools.
Unlike traditional public school models that often include teaching with
the sole purpose of increasing standardized test scores, charter
schools establish their own set of achievement goals. Mandates like No
Child Left Behind do not have as much of an impact on teaching
methodology -- allowing teachers to use innovative, customized plans for
each student and class.

Communities across Mississippi continue to struggle with segregated schools. One of the biggest arguments against charter schools is that they lead to re-segregation of schools. Unfortunately, the public schools in Mississippi are already largely re-segregated. Quality public schools are desired by parents of all races, which means that a quality public charter school may serve as one of Mississippi's first organically integrated public schools where students of all colors are learning at high levels.

Charter
schools provide fresh starts. Students that attend schools in their
district often face educational obstacles that have nothing to do with
the school itself. Neighborhood friends, proximity to home and other
environmental constraints give students a personal identity, sometimes
negative, that they have trouble escaping. Charter schools give students
the opportunity to be someone new -- a different version of the person
they have been their whole lives. With no prejudgments, students are
less intimidated to excel in school.

While charter schools are by no means a cure-all, but at least they
provide Mississippi's education system with a viable option and its
children with a chance for success. You may not believe that charter
schools are good for our educational system, but what is certain is that
our educational system needs to change. Our youngsters are the future
of this great state, and our educators must do their part to help put
Mississippi on top in both economics and education.

 

I'd urge the Mississippi House Representatives to consider these points when deciding the future of charter schools in Mississippi. I'd also urge constituents to let their preference for charter schools be known to their representatives. While I realize that charter schools cannot, and will not, solve all of the education issues in the state, they are a necessary step in Mississippi K-12 education reform.