Thursday, January 18, 2007

Parents Want More Options Too..Are Michigan Democrats Listening? by Akindele Akinyemi

This is a real testimony of a parent who I met recently at a function.

For four years, Sharon Williams, a single mother of two children, tried to get her kids into charter schools. She felt that Detroit Public School district her daughter and son attended was not serious about teaching rigorous academics and, worse, that some of the staff talked down to her and were "horrible." On an assistant manager salary, her options for getting her kids into better schools were limited. She had no idea the competition to get into charter schools would be so stiff.

The acceptance rate at the Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse in Northwest Detroit is 9 percent — for every 11 children who apply, 1 is accepted. Charter-school students are picked at random in a lottery conducted under the vigilant gaze of the education commissioner's legal staff, so no one can influence who is selected.

All Metro Detroit charter schools have long waiting lists.

To some extent the competition for charter seats is driven by the perception that, at best, only three or four of the regular urban district schools are viable. While charters have made significant improvements with children over the past decade we are witnessing a exodus of students from the Detroit Public School System. What makes matters worse is the fact the Detroit Federation of Teachers have created a hurricane of events that has led to this massive exodus of children and families form Detroit Public Schools.

Several years ago the Michigan legislature put a moratorium on the creation of any new charters. Why? "In my opinion," says Ronald Thompson, a charter supporter, "the way charters are funded presents all kinds of problems to the individual districts, who are struggling financially." So new charters wait while Michigan solves other problems.

Williams feels that by offering so few families a shot at a charter school, "they're just holding a bone over a dog's mouth."

Williams first daughter was obedient, a good student and not a worry. But the her son was such a handful in preschool that Williams began to investigate other schools, believing that smaller classes and more personal attention would help tame the child's impulsiveness. She applied to Nataki Talibah and Winans Academy for both children.

She opted not to apply to any DPS schools because "I was trying to get into a school that did not have a union. I believe the teachers don't feel their jobs are at stake when they have a union. It shows the quality of the teaching that they get a paycheck whether or not they do their jobs."
But both kids were rejected at both charters that year, and the next.

The third year her children were ready to enroll in sixth grade, so this time she applied again to Winans Academy and Nataki Talibah for both of her children. Again, her children were all rejected.

"I was beyond frustrated."

In year four, now quite upset, she applied to the two charters as well as several private schools. Here the story becomes especially painful.

Williams says, "My oldest child was an "A" student from kindergarten on. I had always thought she had good teachers, so a red flag never went up. But she had to take a test to get into University Liggett School [a private school]. She placed in the 8th percentile in reading and in the 10th percentile in math. [This means that in reading she was achieving below 92 percent of the other kids who took this nationally normed test.] My daughter is very gifted. If she had never taken that test, I never would have known what a disadvantage she was at. My son is a smart boy, but he does not have the push for school. I knew that if the oldest did so poorly, my second did not have a chance."

University Liggett accepted the oldest girl into the 7th grade despite the poor test scores, but with no financial aid. "I was shooting high because as a person of color, I thought I had a shot. But it was a waste of time. Everyone encourages you to apply, but your chances of getting in are slim to none."

She was so angry, she called me to give her info on contacting lawmakers in Lansing. She called them to give them a piece of her mind. She wanted to testify at a Senate hearing about lifting the moratorium on the creation of new charter schools. She remembers telling them that "I would really like to see many more charter schools in place. The teachers seem more dedicated to the children and also to the families."

After raising hell, her children finally got a spot at one of the local charters in Metro Detroit.

Sharon Williams is living out of state now in Ohio where there are more charter opportunities available for her children. She recently saw how Republicans lost control of the State House and has big fears about State House Controlled Democrats rolling back or stalling the process on charter schools here in Michigan as her two sisters try to enroll their children in lcoal charters.

Michigan policies about charter schools actively oppress urban families. Whom does it serve to keep Sharon Williams and others like her from having more choices of schools they can trust?

The legislature needs to lift the moratorium and the caps on charter schools. Now.

If you are in agreement or disagreement let us know here at One Choice PAC at

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