Let innovative models flourish in K-12 education
As I travel around the state, I am sometimes asked by well-meaning skeptics: “instead of providing additional options to students, why not build it within our existing traditional public school system?”
This question is understandable. For the defenders of traditional public schools, terms like public charter schools and private schools makes them cringe. And, while there is a small minority of people that believe that public schools, or as they would say “‘government-run schools,” are inadequate and not worth investing in, I am not one of them.
My position on public education reform was perhaps best described in the award-winning 2011 documentary, “Waiting for Superman.” When studying the quality of public education compared to yesteryear, researchers found that once-high-performing schools had become low-performing schools and that the low academic scores may have very little to do with the state of the actual school in question. In fact, the real issue may have more to do with the major decline and devastation in the communities that surround the school -- in warp speed!
Think about it. When I attended public schools in a textile town, Kannapolis, 23 years ago, North Carolina was an economic leader in textile manufacturing. Today, in my hometown where textile mill smokestacks once stood, they have been replaced by bright, brick biotech research buildings. North Carolina was a leader in tobacco farming and furniture production as well.
Consider this: Twenty-three years ago, 70 percent of African-American households were two-parent households. Today, more than 70 percent of African-American households are one-parent. And while I would in no way imply that our single mothers are somehow inadequate, I’m appalled by the fact that they had no choice in the matter.
It is tough statistics and hard facts, like these, that have me spinning the question back on those same well-meaning skeptics: Given the plight of our family, communities and the impact of a new global economy, why should we expect for our traditional public schools to wrestle with these challenges alone? Now more than ever, we as citizens must be open to new ideas, innovation -– and may I dare say, change.
Change is constant. All of us must adapt. And our public education system is no different.
When just over 22 percent of children from low-income communities meet grade standards in Durham County, it is clear that these parents deserve greater educational options for their child, traditional or nontraditional. And when you add these countywide numbers to statewide figures, the number of children that are unable to perform at grade level is jaw-dropping. According to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, 70 percent of low-income North Carolina students failed to demonstrate proficiency of their subject – that’s 7 out of 10 students.
Our K-12 public education system should look to forward-thinking leaders at our North Carolina college and university level. In a state recognized for its technological prowess and medical advances, our schools of higher learning have sought to create models at the K-12 level by housing choice schools on their very own campuses. In recognition of the new global economy, our universities have even discussed the idea of starting campuses in China. If change and adaptation are good enough for our world-class institutions, why such furor opposing parent options at the K-12 public education system– the same system that produces a meager 3 out of 10 proficiency ranking for low-income students?
The divisions among adults within our traditional public schools, public charter schools and private schools must end. It’s about the kids.
New York Times best-selling author, Eckhart Tolle, once said “Some changes look negative on the surface, but you will soon realize that that makes space for something new to emerge.” The something new to emerge will not happen solely within our traditional public schools, expanded public charter schools nor in the Opportunity Scholarship program where low-income children can attend private schools. It’s not until North Carolina allows for all of these innovative models to flourish - creating a new and better K-12 public educational delivery system for all children.
Darrell Allison is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.