Why Atlanta's ‘Choice-Friendly’ Is Not the Same as ‘Murder-Friendly’

In a recent ranking from the Fordham Institute, Atlanta is ranked as one of the top 10 cities nationally for school choice, essentially making it “choice-friendly.” I have to admit, when I see a right-leaning think tank proclaim a victory for “school choice,” I gotta hear both sides. Being from Atlanta, I have to say that many of the choices aren’t that great. And more importantly, I know the deep level of mistrust among parents, students and community members when charter schools enter neighborhoods of color. But when Georgia Federation of Teachers President Verdaillia Turner stands up and says that calling Atlanta choice-friendly is “like saying Chicago is the most murder-friendly city in the nation,” I’m not here for it. Is she serious? I moved from Atlanta to Chicago two years ago. In 2015, 458 people have been murdered in Chicago and many of them are school-age victims whose lives could have been transformed by better educational choices. Turner’s comparison is not only offensive, it shows a deep misunderstanding of what’s at stake here. When it comes to education, parents are entitled to options. Hell, students are entitled to options. And each student of color we can provide with another option matters. Each student that we believe can be lifted out of poverty matters. And while we may not always like the vehicle, the aim is not to break down the car but instead see how we can work together to fix it. To get us from point A to point B. To make sure that students are graduating high school and college and entering careers. I come from a lower middle-class black family in Atlanta (technically Decatur). The public school in my neighborhood was simply out of the question, and there were very few quality school options that we could afford. Instead, I attended a small community-funded private school in East Atlanta that struggled to pay utility bills—let alone our teachers—every month. So, I know first-hand that options matter. Turner does, however, have a point in her call to make sure charters deliver on their promise, that they need to be held accountable, and that they need to work in partnership with district schools and be inclusive in their student population. But if you’re going to equate charter schools with murder, then I have to wonder if you really have the best interest of the kids at heart.  

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