By Jackie Hardy
NDG Contributing Writer
According to U.S. News and World Report, President Barack Obama submitted a 1.35 billion dollar budget proposal to Congress in the effort to extend education grant programs for states. The Obama Administration’s aggressive Education budget will include allocating funds for more charter schools, which operate independently of local school boards.
Charter schools are gaining national support and many states like Massachusetts are opening more charter schools in the effort to eliminate the achievement gap that low-performing public schools are experiencing typically among minority students.
On the state level, Texas is also recognizing the need and importance of charter schools. Senators Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) are two Senators who supported House Bill (HB) 1423 that went into effect on June 19, 2009.
HB 1423 grant charters to public junior colleges for open-enrollment charter schools. Senate Bill (SB) 308, a proposed bill to lift the current 215 cap of open-enrollment charter schools granted by the State Board of Education and SB 1830, a proposed bill to allow charters to rent space on public school ground failed to pass in the June2009 legislative session.
“House Bill 1423 allows community colleges to create charters in a variety of ways to either improve the college preparation of students, create schools that grant college credit and/or create schools focused on earning certifications while earning a high school diploma,” explains Shapiro.
Charter schools are traditionally found in communities with a high concentration of minorities. According to the website Resource Center for Texas Charter Schools, 80 percent of minorities attend charter schools compared to 57 percent in traditional schools thus making HB 1423 a vital legislation for minorities. This legislation can help open the door for better opportunities for minorities to attend charter schools that offer college preparatory curriculums.
“I believe the more people are exposed to the success stories about charter schools such as KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), Yes Preparatory Public Schools of Houston, and North Hills Preparatory School of Irving the sooner people will support opening more charter schools in the state of Texas, as well as see the good these charter schools are doing for our children,” states Shapiro.
Three of North Texas charter schools made prestigious lists based on academic excellence. The School for Talented and Gifted ranked fifth and the School of Science and Engineering Magnet both at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center ranked eighth in the 2009 U.S News and World Report, Best High Schools: Gold Medal List. Irving’s North Hills Preparatory School, a campus of Uplift Education which is a non-profit and community based college preparatory public schools organization, ranked ninth in the 2009 Newsweek, Top 1500 Best U.S. High Schools. KIPP Houston High School ranked number 16 in the same U.S. News and World Report list, as well.
KIPP Founders, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin were two Houston inner-city elementary school teachers who witnessed first-hand the academic gap amongst minorities, which led them to start KIPP charter schools. Currently KIPP has 82 charter schools serving over 21,000 students in 19 states, including the District of Columbia.
“At KIPP, we are showing that your zip code need not determine your destiny and that college is a reality that can be achieved for all students,” exclaim Steve Mancini, KIPP National Spokesperson.
KIPP TRUTH of Dallas serves a predominately African American and Latino student body. In the 2008-2009 school year, the eighth grade class scored from the tenth to the sixtieth percentile in reading and from the twentieth to the eighty-fifth percentile in math during their four years at KIPP TRUTH. The school has also been a Recognized Campus for the past two years.
North Hills Preparatory School’s largest percentage of minorities is Asians (46.1). African Americans (4.7) and Hispanics (12.7) make up less than 20 percent of its minorities. Of its graduating seniors, 93.5 percent earned at least one passing grade on the Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) test, one attributing factor to earning a ninth rank in the 2009 Newsweek poll.
“Charters have the flexibility to explore innovative methods that may be better suited for a more personalized learning experience and the more types of innovation we have, the better chance we have of closing the achievement gaps,” states Shapiro.
“In the 2009-2010 school year, KIPP Texas charter schools consist of 29 percent African American and 67 percent Latino. Nationally over 85 percent of KIPP’s alumni have matriculated to college,” states Mancini.
Charter schools are not immune to its challenges. High turn-over rate and misappropriation of school funds have been some of the past negative stigmas associated with charter schools. Unlike traditional public schools that have a board of trustees and require strict compliance of district rules; charter schools do not follow district rules, but many of the charter schools like North Hills Preparatory have their own Board of Education.
“Being that North Hills has been around for 13 years, we have had the experience to understand how to hire teachers and leaders and develop them over time,” states Laura Cobb, Chief of Schools for Uplift Education. “Uplift’s Board demands fiscal responsibility and we actually pride ourselves on the fact that we have considerably more impact on preparing our students for success in college on a much smaller cost per student than our neighboring Independent School Districts account for.”
The positives seem to outweigh the negatives with respect to charter schools successfully addressing this academic gap among minorities. One possible reason is charter schools operate under a 501 (c) (3) corporation status giving it the flexibility to be innovative with its teaching methods and curriculum. Many charter schools follow an AP and/or IB college preparatory curriculum(s). The IB program adopts a teaching method that promotes intercultural understanding and respect, not as an alternative to a sense of cultural and national identity, but as an essential part of life in the 21st century.
“Promoting intercultural understanding helps all students to explore our country and many other countries and look at the world in a more holistic way to gain a more thorough understanding of what our responsibilities are as future citizens and leaders, “ states Cobb.
For more information on enrollment at KIPP TRUTH contact Shaniqua Rischer, Development Director at the following email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on one of Uplift Education Campuses contact Laura Cobb, Chief of Schools at the following email: email@example.com.