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Askwith Essentials: Charter Schools and Educational Equity

At the Askwith Debates on Thursday, March 29, guests will share their different perspectives on the equity of charter schools and discuss how the charter school system impacts the overall education system in the United States.

This event will be live-streamed beginning March 29 at 5:30 p.m.

Associate Professor Martin West will moderate a discussion among guest speakers Cornell William Brooks, Derek Black, Alisha Thomas Morgan, and Gerard Robinson. Before the debate, learn more about the issue, as well as the speakers’ stances on charter schools and educational equity.

The Issue: Charter Schools – Expanding Opportunity or Reinforcing Divides?

Supporters argue that charter schools provide alternative solutions to the traditional public school system, in which many schools — especially those in low-income, predominantly minority school districts — find themselves with limited resources to offer their large student populations. Opponents feel, however, that since charter schools can only serve a small segment of students, they only reinforce economic and racial segregation, and actually destabilize the communities they claim to want to help. Many critics also site charter schools' lack of accountability and operational transparency as serious issues.

Where the Speakers Stand:

Cornell William Brooks

Former president of the NAACP and senior fellow of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, Cornell William Brooks argues that charter schools perpetuate social stratification in the U.S. education system and exacerbate inequalities throughout America.

“The growth of charter schools is occurring in ways that weaken the whole system. We want to make sure that charter schools serve all children, and that charter schools are not the refuge, for the easiest and leas expensive to educate, while traditional public schools are the dumping ground for those are the most expensive and the most difficult to educate,” Brooks stated in a Verse video. “We need to create public school systems and public education that’s not about winning a lottery. It’s about being a citizen of this country, and giving your children what is their birth right and what is their right under the constitution.”

Gerard Robinson

The executive director for the Center for Advancing Opportunity, Gerard Robinson argues that partnerships between the private sector and public school system can help finance improvements within schools.

“But this overgeneralized narrative obscures the true nature of some existing public – private educational partnerships and assumes nefarious motives fuel someone’s decision to enter this type of work. For a host of reasons, school districts find it more feasible to manage some educational services in-house and outsource others to for-profit companies,” Robinson wrote in U.S. News & World Report in 2017.

“School districts depend on private-sector service providers to support their educational duties. Examples of positive public- private partnership exist in American education, and they should be marketed as lessons for how privatization is working to the benefit of many.”

Derek Black

Law professor at the University of South Carolina whose current research focuses on constitutional law and public education, Derek Black has written about charter schools in the context of education reform, civil rights, and service of the public priorities.

In a 2012 article, “Civil Rights, Charter Schools, and Lessons to Be Learned,” Black suggests that charter schools have succeeded because of their
ability to make moral claims, whereas civil rights advocates have tended toward data-based claims in recent years that do not always resonate with local communities. In “Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good,” Black recognizes that charter schools cou ld, in theory, promote the public good, but have, in practice, often done the opposite. His most recent article, “Preferencing Choice: The Constitutional Limits,” is highly critical of state policies that continue to promote school choice at the expense of public schools and values.

Alisha Thomas Morgan

Current head of schools of the Ivy Preparatory Academies, a network of all-girl public charter schools in Georgia, Alisha Thomas Morgan served as a Georgia state representative from 2003 to 2015. A long-time proponent of charter schools, Morgan was vocal in her support for the 2012 amendment to the Georgia State Constitution that expanded school choice and allowed the state to authorize and pay for an increased number of charter schools. With Ivy Prep embarking on reauthorization and a campus move, Morgan remains committed to providing choice for parents and communities.

As she stated in a 2017 interview with EducationPost, “If you talk to a mom or a dad who wants a great education for their child, they don’t care what the school is called, what the governing structure is, they just want a great education.

“Supporting charters doesn’t mean we don’t support traditional public schools. My goal is for all public schools to be successful and be filled with caring adults with high expectations for children.”

Event details:

Thursday, March 29, 5:30-7 p.m.
Longfellow Hall
13 Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138