I remember the exact moment I became a charter school supporter. It was 2006, and I was a few days away from completing my first year of teaching in Camden, New Jersey. The mother of one of my students wanted to speak with me after school. I’ll never forget what she asked me: She wanted to know if she should send her daughter to a nearby charter school for first grade or keep her in our district school. Specifically, she asked, “What would you do if you were me—if this were your child?”
If someone had asked me then my opinion on charter schools, or choice generally, I wouldn’t have had one. But I did have a strong opinion about wanting her child (small for her age, with a tough exterior that could be mistaken for anger if you didn’t know her well) to thrive. The charter up the street was the only one I’d ever heard of, even though the city suffered from a desperate shortage of schools where reading and math proficiency scores weren’t in the single digits. I knew a bit about that particular school. It was safe and orderly, placed high expectations on students, offered an extended school day and school year, and provided opportunities that our school didn’t. So I said yes, unequivocally. Standing there with a young mom around my age—a single mom, living in a neighborhood notorious for poverty and crime but unwilling to let that define her daughter’s story—there really wasn’t much to deliberate about.
One of the primary problems we face in education policy making is our inability, or unwillingness, to see through the eyes of moms, dads, and students in search of better options. We’re reluctant to let go of tired talking points and simply ask, “What would I want for my own child?”
Every student deserves a school like the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), a charter high school helping students defy the odds in one of Ohio’s lowest-performing districts. Three out of four of its students come from economically disadvantaged families, but 100 percent enroll in college. These students include Khadidja, who is attending West Virginia University this fall, and Shyanne, who appears in the video below and elucidates how DECA’s positive culture and high expectations have inspired her pathway to success.
Whatever your opinions about school choice or charter schools up to this point, we urge you to watch this video and listen to what Shyanne has to say. Better yet, go visit a high-quality charter school in your community and talk to teachers, parents, and students directly. Good charter schools like DECA are good choices. They play a critical role in getting more low-income students to and through college, challenge the notion that socioeconomics is destiny, and empower parents who want their kids to have the best shot in life. That’s something all of us have in common.