Public, Private, Charter or Home? What schools are best for Black Children?

Last year, Michelle Ree, Chancellor of Washington D.C. Public School system fired over 200 employees for poor performance evaluations. She has also put hundreds of other teachers on notice that they are also in jeopardy of losing their jobs if their performances do not improve within the next school year. USA Today reported that “Washington Teachers’ Union president George Parker said the evaluation method is dramatically different from other evaluation systems around the country and that it is “flawed” and has “many loopholes.” He said the evaluation was a “subjective way to fire teachers, many of whom were not evaluated fairly.” The union on Friday also released the results of a survey of about 1,000 of its members which found about 80% did not understand an important part of the evaluation method.” This happens to be an unfortunate situation that is happening in many public school districts across the nation. Districts are looking for highly qualified teachers but are producing low quality students. It is even more disastrous when it comes to the education of Black children. More and more black parents are choosing alternative educational opportunities for their children. This includes sending their children to private or parochial schools, working with community organizations to found charter schools, and even homeschooling their children.

Traditionally, the public school has always been the only path for many black children to receive education. As early as the 1870’s, black children began receiving public education at the expense of white citizens and black churches. This helped produce great minds and leaders. These schools ranged from early primary grades all the way up to college level which in most cases were limited to agricultural, mechanical and teaching colleges. Public schools were always segregated both in northern and southern states but all the teachers shared a great desire to see their students succeed. When the United States forced integration on public schools in the 1950’s many white parents took their children out of those schools and placed them in private or parochial schools. This led to what we now see in public education, negligent urban school facilities with increased violence, low test scores and student achievement, and high teacher turnover. More and more black parents are watching as their children who are enrolled in public schools continue to lose interest in learning. This happens to black children in public schools as early as third grade. This disinterest continues into the upper secondary grades of high school. In addition, many black students in public schools actively choose to hide their intelligence for fear of being teased as “wannabe white, nerdy, geek, or not hood enough.” Public schools are constrained from fully and holistically educating black children due largely to status quo and teacher unions. There is always money being thrown at public schools to solve problems, but that money is usually always tied up in some bureaucratic legislative red tape and the students are always the ones suffering because of it.

While public schools have long been the primary provider of education for black children, private and parochial schools have also contributed.  There is no dispute that private schools provide more rigorous academic courses that challenges students at every grade level. The Catholic Church has long had a rich relationship with educating blacks by providing quality education. They have also led in the voucher programs to help black parents send their children to their schools. Black churches have also led the way by starting head start, pre­-kindergarten and kindergarten schools. Many have done so because of the ease of establishing day care centers through the church. Some have also branched out in the secondary and upper secondary education areas and provide their students with the same curricular and extra-curricular activities offered in public schools.  This is surely advantageous for both the parents and students in these schools. Also, more black families are moving into the upper middle class and they are now able to afford a private education for their children.  Perhaps the best argument that many black parents are presenting when defending their choice of private education for their children is that of the discipline it develops within their children.

While both public and private schools have long served black families for educating their children, more of them are choosing a growing trend of homeschooling.  A basic definition of homeschooling is parent directed education.  Although homeschooling is largely associated with fundamental extrememist, more and more black families are promoting this because of their concerns with public education. From the outset, homeschooling opponents argue that doing so inhibits the social growth and development of children. Proponents of homeschooling argue the exact opposite. There are full curricula available to parents and there are also many home school associations that provide the same extra-curricular activities as public schools. In many areas, homeschooled children are able to participate in public school activities such as sports, music, and state standardized testing.

I am a proponent of public school education because I am a product of public schools. While there are many flaws with the public school system, it is very clear that public schools may remain the primary educational agency for many black children. This will only change when more black parents begin to demand that the quality of public education meets the demand of private and home schools. It is ultimately up to the parents to decide which one will best develop their children into the learners, leaders and citizens that the country both needs and wants.