My mother was an English teacher who taught in predominantly white and affluent private schools. As part of her employment benefits, my siblings and I were afforded an education at these elite schools for free. From first through eighth grade I was privileged to benefit from the top-notch education offered by these elite private schools. When I entered high-school I chose to attend my local public schools because being the only African American in my class had taken its toll on me. As I was required to study the same novels in eleventh and twelfth grade that I had studied in middle school, it became evident to me that I had chosen social comfort over educational quality. I wish that there had been an option for me to attend a free public school with an accelerated curriculum.
Access to free education is a constitutional right (Amendment 14) that is determined by the state. The rise of charter schools has introduced choice to this right. I am proud that I have worked at charter schools with curriculum and pedagogy that rivals the education I received at prestigious private schools. The schools that were not available to me as a teenager are available to my children. However, while these schools are free, I would argue that they are not always accessible. Lack of public funding often prohibits charter schools from offering transportation. In addition, often these schools start with middle school on such a rigorous level that often students from low performing schools do not have the foundation necessary to perform academically in the secondary grades. So many students in underserved schools are learning below grade level while charter schools often offer curriculum that is two to four years ahead of grade level. Is it even possible to close such a gap?
As parents zoned for underperforming schools are becoming aware of the educational options in their cities, they are expressing their discontent by disenrolling from their neighborhood schools and finding options that better serve their students. Groups like the National Parent Leadership Incubator are organizing, training, and supporting parents to become advocates for their children and their communities. As the world gets smaller and information is readily available at our finger tips, parents, who have been traditionally denied access, are organizing, demanding their constitutional right to a quality education, and taking a seat at the table.