December 6, 2011 When the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) released the "Chartering and Choice as an Achievement Gap-Closing Reform" report, education reformers across the country took note. "The struggle to assert, carve out and sustain places of learning where African American students can thrive and excel has found a home in California's public charter schools," said Howard Fuller, Founding Board Chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and Founding Board Chair of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "This study confirms that the hopes and aspirations families have given voice to, have found a ready and committed response, as well as a path forward for our communities."
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who spoke at CCSA's press conference announcing the report's findings, noted that the report "is proof that great results are possible, regardless of race, income or zip code, when high expectations are set for students and educators in the classroom. Every child will learn if they have access to excellent teachers and schools. It is our responsibility to find ways to ensure all children have access to a quality education."
CCSA wanted to make sure the broader community was also aware of the report. That is why Families That Can (FTC), the Association's grassroots organizing effort, hosted community events in Oakland and Los Angeles.
"We wanted to take the report to folks throughout the community who didn't know anything about charters or who are skeptical of the work charters are doing," said Ainye Long, director, Parent and Community Engagement for FTC.
In Oakland, community members were invited to the African American Museum & Library for a presentation by Dr. Aisha Toney, the lead author of the report, and an interactive community dialogue around African American student performance in the city and the role charter schools play. The two dozen people in attendance also heard from Principal Lolita Jackson and Vice Principal Sherrye Hubbard of KIPP Bridge, an Oakland school profiled in the report as successfully educating African American students, and from Jorge Lopez, Executive Director of Amethod Public Schools (which operates Oakland Charter Academy and Oakland Charter High School).
"The event was great because it put the numbers in front of community leaders and got them talking. The people in attendance were really engaged, asking questions and wanting to know more" from Dr. Toney and the charter leaders, said Long. In fact, "the security guard finally came and told us the museum was closing and we needed to wrap up the event. People wanted to keep talking-- about what other public schools can learn from charters, about how to get this information in front of other people in the community, and about next steps they can each take."
FTC and several charter schools in Los Angeles hosted a similarly successful event in Los Angeles for African American clergy, civil rights leaders and leaders of community-based organizations. The open conversation focused on how charter schools and community leaders can work together to support students.
The eight charter organizations that participated in the Los Angeles event collectively serve approximately 5,000 African-American students. They shared the history of their organizations and the best practices they have found effective. Many highlighted current challenges they face where they need the support of community leaders.
Many of the event's attendees will be visiting some of the schools whose leaders participated in the forum: Center for Advanced Learning, Celerity Educational Group, Culture and Language Academy of Success, Crown Prep Charter, Opportunities Unlimited, Watts Learning Center (which was also featured in the report), MECA Charter, and The Accelerated School.
"We hope that this is the beginning of a long-lasting relationship between our great charter leaders and our revered community leaders, working to get the best possible academic outcomes for students in our community," said Corri Ravare, FTC's Executive Director.