Rice: Charter Schools Are Advancing the Cause of Black Education in America for the 21st Century

by Ron Rice

African-American educators have been at the forefront of education battles through the centuries. Before Brown v. Board, black educators came together to operate schools that were responsive to our community. And after the landmark ruling, black educators worked tirelessly — literally giving their sweat, blood, and tears — to enforce the Supreme Court’s will.

There are many battles yet to be won. However, today’s African-American students have at least one advantage that their pre-Brown peers did not: public school choice. This was the topic of a session I hosted last month at the National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, D.C. “Great Schools by Us, for Us: African-American Institutions and Charter Schools” brought together leaders Shirley Franklin, former mayor of Atlanta; Pier Blake, executive director of the Jack & Jill of America Foundation; and Dr. Paulette C. Walker, national president of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, to explore the role of black institutions in the public charter school movement.

A key theme of the discussion was that even in 2017, there remains a strong need for culturally responsive public education which nurtures the brilliance of black students. Because let’s be honest: Despite all the progress we’ve made as a country, our children are still inundated with messages that they are “less than” because they are black.

First, we looked at where we’ve come from. Much is owed to the Freedmen’s Bureau, white missionary societies, and Northern charities in creating some of the first schools to educate black children after the Civil War. But black communities — many desperately poor — also dug deep into their own resources to build and maintain schools that met their needs and reflected their values.

There are countless examples of black institutions and leaders creating schools on their own, for their own. The African Methodist Episcopal Church created Morris Brown College and Allen and Wilberforce universities. Mary McLeod Bethune created Bethune-Cookman College with just $1.50. Marva Collins fought valiantly against the Chicago Public School District to create Westside Preparatory School. Mississippi’s Piney Woods Country Life School, founded in 1909 — just one example of a black private boarding school — sends 97 percent of its students to college. Read more here.

Ron Rice is the senior director of government relations for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. He is a former chief policy analyst for the New Jersey state Education Department and a former Newark city councilman.