Black voters inspired by school choice

Douglas A. Blackmon's picture

One of the most striking results of the vote on Amendment 1, which was approved by Georgia voters on Nov. 6 and creates an independent commission to authorize public charter schools in the state, is the absolutely extraordinary level of support received from African-American voters.

Of the 20 Georgia counties where African-Americans make up half or more of the population, the amendment was approved by 61 percent of all voters and in 14 of those 20 counties. In two of the other six counties, the amendment still got 49 percent of the vote; in the other four, support ranged from 42-44 percent. In the 13 counties where more than half of Georgia’s 3 million black citizens live, the margin of support was even higher: 62 percent approval.

The bottom line: Georgia’s black counties overwhelmingly desire dramatic new alternatives to the conventional school systems that have failed them for more than a century.

That level of support flatly contradicts one of the flimsiest canards used to criticize Amendment 1 – and charter schools in general. That is, the idea that somehow charter schools end up hurting minority or poorer students while disproportionately helping white and middle-class children.

The actual performance of charter schools in Georgia has always defied such claims. African-American students and all children living in urban areas with failed conventional public schools, like Atlanta, have benefited far more from charters than any other groups.

That reality of the vote is even more remarkable when plotted across a map of Georgia. Amendment 1 was overwhelming approved in populous areas like Atlanta, Savannah and Macon, where a new generation of residents from all social and ethnic backgrounds want an eclectic, diverse “city” life but where the archaic system of local school board control of public education has been a sustained failure for decades.

The amendment also received huge support in places like Cherokee County, where the local school board in recent years has been perhaps the most hostile to all charter schools – and any kind of meaningful school reform – of any location in Georgia. The monopoly so long held by chronically failing institutions like those is what Amendment 1 will now challenge.

The support of Amendment 1 among African-Americans is also notable against the backdrop of the Georgia Supreme Court decision in May 2011 that struck down as unconstitutional a previous version of the state charter commission. That ruling was on a lawsuit organized by school boards that oppose all charter schools led directly to the campaign for Amendment 1. In the 2011 ruling, the Supreme Court ignored some substantive issues around state funding that in truth needed judicial scrutiny. Instead, the court struck down the old commission using a cruelly naive logic that would have been comical if it had not been so nauseatingly ironic.

The court reached all the way back to Georgia’s defunct constitution of 1877, a white supremacist document passed expressly to end the brief period of true citizenship enjoyed by formerly enslaved African-Americans after the Civil War. It cited as the basis of the ruling against the charter school commission the very constitutional article that first mandated racially segregated schools in Georgia.

How richly appropriate then, that African-American voters in Georgia used the ballot box to renounce the state Supreme Court’s absurdist logic. A total of more than 805,000 “yes” votes (out of a total of 2.1 million statewide in favor of the amendment) were cast in the counties with the largest number of black voters. That includes DeKalb (54 percent African-American), where the amendment passed with 64 percent of the vote, and Fulton (43 percent African-American), where it was approved by 66 percent.

And where did Amendment 1 get the absolute highest level of support? In 66 percent black Clayton County, the poster child for abominable school boards, where the system lost its accreditation as a result of staggering dereliction by the elected board. African-American families in Clayton have been in open revolt, ousting some school officials at the polls, moving to nearby jurisdictions with better schools and mounting immense pressure for improvements.

Voters in Clayton gave the charter school amendment a stunning 71 percent approval. That says it all.

[This commentary was submitted to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation by Atlanta resident Douglas Blackmon, a founder of Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School in Grant Park. Blackmon is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II,” chair of the Miller Center Forum at the University of Virginia and a contributing editor at the Washington Post. The Foundation is an independent, state-focused think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians.]

renault314
renault314's picture
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Joined: 07/03/2007
Charter schools are a scam, will not benefit minorites.

I'm sorry Mr. Blackmon, but your conclusions are all wrong. You looked at a lot of numbers, but failed to understand what those numbers mean in the real world. Here is my perspective.

Douglas A. Blackmon wrote:

The bottom line: Georgia’s black counties overwhelmingly desire dramatic new alternatives to the conventional school systems that have failed them for more than a century.

It sounds very dramatic when you use hyperbole like that, but lets talk about actual numbers, since you like to use them so much. The schools are failing black students in what way? I happen to work at a wonderful school system that has an article in this very paper about our near perfect scores on the GHSGT writing test. Would you say that Fayette schools are failing the children? If so, based on what metric? I know that you didn't pick on FayCo specifically, so lets talk about everybody's favorite poster child for dysfunctional schools, Clayton Co. A quick look at the GADOE website gives the 2011 numbers for the same test and according to that, 92% of black students passed the test there. There is some room for improvement, but those are not the numbers that would suggest parents marching in the streets over the injustice.

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That level of support flatly contradicts one of the flimsiest canards used to criticize Amendment 1 – and charter schools in general. That is, the idea that somehow charter schools end up hurting minority or poorer students while disproportionately helping white and middle-class children.

I happen to believe this argument, because again, I live in the real world, where poor students do not always have access to transportation to get accross the county to attend these schools. They remain behind in the school everyone apparently wanted to get out of in the first place, meanwhile the quality teachers have gone off to the charter school and with fewer students there is less money to spend on the the original school. The end result is a concentration of the kids who couldn't (for whatever reason-money, grades, discipline) go to the new school, and kids who wouldn't go to the new school (didn't want to, parents couldn't be bothered). The odds againt having a success with a group of "left-behinds" and "didn't-want-to's" are extremely long.

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The actual performance of charter schools in Georgia has always defied such claims. African-American students and all children living in urban areas with failed conventional public schools, like Atlanta, have benefited far more from charters than any other groups.

I'd really like to see your sources for that statement. It is purely anecdotal. Atlanta might have a lot of charter schools already, (which begs the obvious question as to why we needed an amendment granting charter schools) but that does not mean there has been a measureable benefit. That charter schools wave some magic wand and makes all the students geniuses is the lie they perpetuate, but it is simply untrue. You will always see a modest gain in test scores or grad rates in the short term, but in the long run the numbers even out. The reason for this confusion is the very selective use of statistics. There are two basic kinds of charter schools. Those that are application only and those who have to take anybody. The schools that are application only can choose not to admit anyone they dont want, based on grades, standardized test scores, admission testing and behavior history. Those schools always look fantastic, because they reject anybody thats not a smart, well behaved, straight A student. It's never hard to look good when all you do is skim the cream off the top of the counties students and put them in one place. It's statistics from these schools that proponents of charter schools like to quote. Meanwhile, the left behind kids in the old schools are told to go jump in a lake, since the charter school doesnt report to the school board and the parents no longer have a say in the matter. However, Ga's charter schools under the new law will not be this type. They will be "take anyone who signs up" schools. There will be a small, short term jump for these kids too, but the numbers will even out in just a few years. Sending the same kids with the same parents to the same classes, but putting a new sign over the door that says "charter academy" is not going to magically change anything. Of course, proponents tend to gloss over that fact, while almost exclusively quoting stats from charter schools that are set up in such a way that they coundnt fail if they tried.

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That reality of the vote is even more remarkable when plotted across a map of Georgia. Amendment 1 was overwhelming approved in populous areas like Atlanta, Savannah and Macon, where a new generation of residents from all social and ethnic backgrounds want an eclectic, diverse “city” life but where the archaic system of local school board control of public education has been a sustained failure for decades.

Again with the hyperbole. Can you define exactly what you mean by schools being a sustained failure? what is your definition of success? Just contiuously saying something is a chronic failure does not make it so, or convince others of your POV.

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And where did Amendment 1 get the absolute highest level of support? In 66 percent black Clayton County, the poster child for abominable school boards, where the system lost its accreditation as a result of staggering dereliction by the elected board. African-American families in Clayton have been in open revolt, ousting some school officials at the polls, moving to nearby jurisdictions with better schools and mounting immense pressure for improvements. Voters in Clayton gave the charter school amendment a stunning 71 percent approval. That says it all.

It really does say it all. But not what you think. If what you say is true, that some families in ClayCo moved to adjacent counties for better school systems, then obviously charter schools are not the end all be all of school success that you are trying to say it is. I'll tell you what makes one system better than another. Its not the kids or teachers or the buildings or the geographic location. It's the parents. For the most part (I'm speaking in generalizations now) kids with parents who care will succeed, and kids with parents who dont care will not. In Fayette, the vast majority of our students come from families that benefit every day from their educations, and so they push it on their kids. I see them every day. Putting kids in a charter school is just a way to concentrate the kids of parents who care enough to make them go to the school and to drive their kids to the school and make sure they so their homework at night. Those kids were going to succeed anyway, because their parents wouldnt have let them fail. The parents of Clayton County students can complain all they want about the school board, but they are the ones who voted them in in the first place. They are the ones who voted for a superintendent during their accreditation crisis that didn't have qualifications for the job, demanded an outrageous slary and a car with a driver. These are the people who did'nt bother ousting a school board member who lived in a different county until the poo hit the fan. Of course these are the same people who elected a man charged with 30 felonies as sherrif, so you'll forgive me Mr. Blackmon, if I don't take the voting record of Clayton citizens as gospel for whats good or not. Their overwhelming vote for charter schools was nothing more than a desperate attemp to shirk responsibility for a system they created with their vote. My own wife graduated from Lovejoy H.S. when it was just a few years old, and she certainly feels adequately served by Clayton schools. Explain to me how painting the words "Charter school" above the door, but having the same kids with the same teachers and the same parents is going to somehow change what you consider a failing school into a successful one? You have yet to give a definition for either. Lastly, didnt you found a charter school sir? Is it any wonder you write an article touting its benefits? And if you already had a charter school in atlanta, what was the point of the amendment? All that did was take the right to vote on who runs the school out of parents hands, since the new commision will be apointed by the govenor. So ,in your effort to give minorities more choice, you actually managed to make sure they have no say in the matter at all. Nice work.

Davids mom
Davids mom's picture
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Joined: 10/30/2005
renault

Charter schools appeal to a minority urban community because those schools have been allowed to circumvent the failed strategies that exist in too many of the public schools in urban areas. The reason for this failure? Low expectation. The reason for the success of many charter schools? High expectations/high standards. This reality should not take away from those public schools in urban areas that are succeeding. Unfortunately, the perception is that all public schools are failing (as has been expressed by one or two participants in these discussions).
Whenever parents realizes that their voice has been compromised - USUALLY they take steps to correct the mistake. Let's hope that is the case in this situation where the Governor has control over the commission that manages charter schools. If the commission does not include the voice of the parent component of the charter school - your concern is valid. There are a number of charter schools throughout the nation that minority students and their parents support. I will also point out that those units that manage charter schools are quick to dismantle those that do not live up to their written commitment of success. (The School Plan - upon which their budget is based). If parents have no say in the Charter School of their choice - that is their mistake - one I hope they take steps to correct.

rmoc
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Joined: 03/22/2006
Charter Schools

The big difference between Charter Schools and Public Schools is requiring Parental involvement. The public schools can do nothing about the parental educational neglect that prevails especially in urban low-income districts. The advantage of the charter school is that when parents and students are engaged it brings up the standards and allows students to learn at a rate closer to their ability instead of being warehoused with students that due to their abilities and environment dumb the class down. It is a shame but this occurs so often. I went to a public school High School with many non-engaged students(many originally from the failing Chicago Public School System) fortunately my teachers had a lot more leeway than teachers do now and I was allowed to do independent study and graduated as a junior.

Davids mom
Davids mom's picture
Online
Joined: 10/30/2005
Good teachers - important
Quote:

fortunately my teachers had a lot more leeway than teachers do now and I was allowed to do independent study and graduated as a junior.

An excellent reason to require more education for certification of teachers. It requires not only experience to identify students who need additional attention or programs, but continual updating of educational strategies to insure the success of all students. Safe, up- to - date buildings are important, but if they are filled with inadequately prepared teachers, have we achieved 'education' or 'housing'?

By the way, it looks like the parents in DeKalb County have been heard! Fayette County parents, your voice is powerful! You are key to the maintenance of good schools in Fayette County.