The Smear Campaign Against Charters
Far from being ‘resegregated,’ some of our schools are actually majority-minority—and that’s by parents’ free choice.
By Baker A. Mitchell, WSJ|Opinion, Aug. 13, 2019 6:57 pm ET,
Leland, NC With a new school year ahead, the attacks on charter schools have begun anew. In North Carolina we’re hearing outrageous charges of racism. A public-television commentator claimed recently that “resegregation” was the purpose of charter schools “from the start.”
Meanwhile, parents are voting with their feet. Statewide enrollment in traditional public schools has declined four years in a row. Less than 80% of K-12 students now attend district schools. More than 110,000 are enrolled in charters and 100,000 in private schools. More than 140,000 are being home-schooled.
The suggestion that district schools are being resegregated through “white flight” to schools of choice is nonsense. North Carolina charters today have a slightly higher percentage of black students (26.1%) than district schools (25.2%). And those students aren’t assigned. Parents choose our schools.
It’s “certainly no accident” that critics invoke the Jim Crow era by referring to “segregation,” Lindalyn Kakadelis of North Carolina Education Strategies told me. “The goal is to stop the growth of K-12 education options at any cost.” Charter school critics “do not want families making educational decisions for their children. The system does not want to lose control or money.”
Charges of racism are intended to divert attention from the failure of traditional public schools to educate minority children. According to the most recent Charter Schools Annual Report to the North Carolina General Assembly, published in February, charter-school students at virtually every grade level and in virtually all student subgroups—white, African-American, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, and students with limited English proficiency—outperformed traditional public-school students in English, math and science at the end of the school year. The sole exception was high-school math scores, where results were mixed.
The Roger Bacon Academy, which I founded in 1999, oversees four charter schools in southeastern North Carolina that are among the top-performing in their communities. All four schools are Title 1 schools, meaning 40% or more of the students come from lower-income households. One of the schools, Frederick Douglass Academy in downtown Wilmington, is a majority-minority school.
We succeed where others fail because we do things differently. Our classical curriculum, direct-instruction methods, additional instructional hours, and focus on orderliness are a proven formula for successful learning.
I never intended to get involved in education. But after selling a company I founded, I began volunteering as a science instructor at Houston-area elementary schools. I met Thaddeus Lott, principal of Wesley Elementary, a high-achieving school with a predominantly low-income black student body.
I pulled into the parking lot and noticed a 6-foot-high barbed-wire fence around the school. I quickly learned the problems were outside. The students were well-behaved and academically advanced. They read Shakespeare, learned phonics, and memorized multiplication tables. The results were so impressive that Houston school officials accused the school of cheating on tests—then forced the superintendent out when the charge was proved wrong.
Charter schools do not seek to replace traditional public schools, but rather to complement them, providing alternatives to the existing system. Our way is better for some students, not all. Let parents decide.
The “resegregation” attacks are a continuation of a broader smear campaign that began last year. Parents and policy makers shouldn’t be distracted. Charters are doing well—and if they don’t, they lose their charters and are shut down, unlike failing district schools.
Mr. Mitchell is a retired electrical engineer and founder of the Roger Bacon Academy.