Investing in Communities of Color To Innovate in Education Is Never a Bad Thing

Dec 23, 2021 12:00:00 AM

by RaShaun Kemp, Karega Rausch & Naomi N. Shelton

There is untapped brilliance in communities — especially in communities of color — that can lead to equitable and excellent outcomes in schools for all students. 

We need continued investment in families and children of color and their paths toward success in school and life. A recent, unprecedented investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies in public charter schools across the country will help do just that: invest in the dreams and aspirations of families of color by providing 150,000 students the opportunity to attend high-quality schools.

But instead of applauding that investment and urgently working to open and support such schools, some are perpetuating false, divisive and unhelpful narratives about charter schools — that serve nearly 70% students of color. [pullquote]These narratives cater to political interests that ignore the needs of children of color and posit that families of color don’t know what a great education looks like.[/pullquote]

What nonsense.

In the midst of a global pandemic where one in 500 U.S. children have been orphaned due to COVID-19 and a growing learning gap between Black and white students, old, tired, disconnected political talking points are ineffective at helping our nation’s children, especially children of color.

As three Black leaders in education, we focus our time in the charter school sector because we know that when done well, charter schools provide the best opportunity for all students to get a great education right now. We hear families, especially families of color, imploring us to reimagine schooling and not go back to the way things were before COVID-19. We see families actively searching for new and different educational options that meet their aspirations and needs.

We know that charter schools, especially in urban areas, impressively accelerate student learning, despite being under-resourced. We know that some of the most impressive innovations, in education and beyond, came from the brilliance that exists in communities of color — and are being incubated in the charter school sector. And deep in our American cultural traditions are diverse coalitions of people working together to create a more just and fair educational system for all.

Fighting to ensure that all students can dream big when answering, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is not an academic exercise nor a political game to us. [pullquote]The life outcomes of students depends on how communities, leaders, government, and philanthropy respond to this moment.[/pullquote]

Families, especially families of color, expect us to take advantage of emerging innovations that have the potential to ensure their kids are successful. They expect us to identify and expand approaches that are working for students. Parents see the potential for these innovations and proven approaches to lead the way in our much-needed educational and wellness recovery efforts. We need the space and resources to meet these demands in these times. 

We will not back down to anyone seeking to steal positive opportunities or thwart needed investments in our students and communities. If there was ever a time to set politics aside and do everything possible for all students it’s now. It’s time to focus on the real work of creating great schools for all kids.

RaShaun Kemp, Karega Rausch & Naomi N. Shelton

RaShaun Kemp is the Executive Director of Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools. Karega Rausch, Ph.D., is the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) President and CEO. Naomi N. Shelton is the chief executive officer of the National Charter Collaborative (NCC), a nonprofit organization focused on increasing the diversity and performance of the nation’s charter school sector by supporting the success of single-site schools led by leaders of color. NCC’s network includes more than 450 charter school leaders of color representing 25 states and the District of Columbia.

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