Last week, Central Park School for Children in Durham decided to close our two public charter campuses May 16 so we can stand with North Carolina public schools and public school educators in Raleigh. Here’s why:
Charter schools were meant for something greater. When the two of us applied to teach at Central Park School for Children, we each saw in the school’s mission the original promise of charter schools in North Carolina: a collaborative community school with the flexibility to meet student and community needs in new and exciting ways. If you look around our school on a typical afternoon, you will see sixth graders studying botany and history by planting tomatoes in our garden and building models of ancient aqueduct systems, third graders using research to design proposals for more diverse books in our libraries, and kindergartners buzzing as they return from interviewing local business owners in downtown Durham.
All students deserve these experiences, and while teachers across North Carolina are supporting their students with creativity and passion every day, our state does not provide the resources for public schools to provide all students with this type of transformative learning. As the 10th largest economy in the nation, North Carolina is currently ranked 39th for per-pupil spending. Public school teachers often reach into their own pocketbooks to buy essentials like pencils and copy paper for overcrowded classrooms, nevermind having the financial support to take 95 sixth graders on a bus to a local farm for project work.
Adding to these challenges is the broken system of creating and managing charter schools in our state, a system that includes our own school. Soon after we arrived at Central Park, structural shortcomings became apparent. Students of color comprised 81 percent of the demographics of Durham Public Schools in 2013, while students of color at Central Park comprised only 29 percent of the student population. Whereas 66 percent of students in Durham Public Schools were eligible for free and reduced lunch, only 7 percent of CPSC students were eligible for the program.
This realization led to greater clarity: regardless of our intentions, we had become part of the problem of school resegregation. We petitioned the state to become the first charter school to give weighted lottery preference to economically disadvantaged families. We have changed our policies to provide free and reduced-price lunches and transportation assistance. While there is more work to be done, each year the socioeconomic diversity of our student body better reflects the strengths found in the rich diversity of our community and delivers on the mandate for NC charter schools to provide increased learning opportunities for those most in need.
In 2018, Central Park is arriving at another moment of clarity. We recognize that, despite positive intentions, we are still part of the problem. As a charter school, we play into a system that has strayed from the original goals. The charter school system has been turned into a Trojan horse that severely underfunds our state’s public schools, creates competition for resources, resegregates our schools, and provides blinders to cover the increasing privatization of North Carolina’s educational institutions through for-profit charter schools. The mission of our school, and the original mission of charter schools, forbid us from staying silent on these issues.
We intend to actively fight against resegregation of schools by race and class in North Carolina. We stand against privatization, vouchers, and for-profit charter schools, believing passionately that we must serve in collaboration and partnership alongside our communities’ public schools.
Our school’s progress toward this vision calls for the following:
▪ Increased, equitable funding for all public schools.
▪ Reformed systems of accountability for charter schools within their communities, including public measures of success and innovation.
▪ Measures to name and dismantle institutional racism.
▪ Halting school privatization, vouchers, and for-profit charter schools in North Carolina.
▪ Reinstating the cap on the number of NC charter schools until solid practices and policies for accountability are created and enforced.
▪ Potential pathways for charter school reintegration into public school systems.
We cannot ignore the problems in our state’s charter policies. To our colleagues in public charter schools across North Carolina, we call on you to join us May 16 and beyond to strengthen our public schools and to demand policies that grant every student in North Carolina access to a world-class education. To the North Carolina General Assembly, we will act to hold you accountable to the original intention of public charter schools. And to our colleagues in public schools across this state, know that on May 16 and each day to follow, we will be standing with you.
Taylor Schmidt and Morgan Carney are teachers at Central Park School for Children.