Access to education is equality

In Massachusetts, we imagine ourselves as a place where anyone – regardless of his or her race, zip code, income, or the language spoken at home – can succeed. Nowhere is this vision stronger than here in Dorchester, where families from every walk of life have chosen to make their home.

That vision for Massachusetts—— depends on everyone being able to access a quality education.

Unfortunately, a new report out this week shows that thousands of Massachusetts families are being denied that opportunity. The report – “Shut Out: How Massachusetts’ Charter Cap Denies Thousands of Children a Pathway Out of Poverty” – paints the clearest picture yet of how low-income families of color are being denied the educational opportunities that many white, suburban families take for granted.

Among the many unsettling findings in the report is that the small handful of communities —just 17 out of more than 400— where 9-in-10 low-income children of color live are home to traditional public schools that make up the bottom 3 percent of Massachusetts’ school districts. High school graduation rates in these districts trail statewide averages by nearly 16 points. Of the students in these communities who earn diplomas, less than half will ever attend a four-year college.

Massachusetts should be better than this. We’re leaving poor, black and Latino children behind as too many attend schools that do not provide them with the education they need to succeed. And in doing so, we’re allowing low-income families of color to be treated like second-class citizens.

LastThis week, parents, students, and community leaders rallied in front of the State House to deliver a simple message: that Iit’s time to lift the cap on charters. Today, just 17 communities in the state are home to more than three-quarters of the 37,000 children on public charter school waiting lists. Families in these communities are “voting with their feet” – opting for public charter schools because of the longer school days, individual attention, and intensive support that public charter schools provide to their children. But most importantly, they’re opting for charter schools for the results: according to the data, public charter schools have closed the achievement gap.

I know these families. I.see the hope in their eyes when I hand them an application to our school and I see the sadness when I later tell them that their child is hundreds of names down on our waitlist. Every year, I have to explain to anxious, confused parents that because our seats are capped, we’re legally blocked from serving their son or daughter. It breaks my heart every time.

That’s why I’m eager for the Llegislature to craft a bill, as the governor has, to increase access to public charter schools – and that’s why I signed the ballot initiative to add or expand 12 charter schools a year in the communities that need them most
If we allowed children on public charter school waiting lists access to the schools they want, the results would be transformational. The number of students doing math and reading at grade level in our lowest-performing districts would jump by nearly 50 percen%. High school dropout rates would plunge by over a third. And most important of all, twice as many students in these communities would have plans to attend a 4-year college..

It’s time for the State Senate to act. By making public charters—and the quality education they provide—accessible to every child who wants one, we can send a powerful message to families in our highest-need communities: that they matter just as much as their peers in the suburbs.

Then, and only then, will we live up to the vision of what Massachusetts can be.

Thabiti Brown is the Principal at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester.