CharterFolk Contributor – Ron Rice, The Next Iteration of Charter Schools Will Be Intentional, Of Color and Community/Economically Empowering – Are You Ready? I Don’t Think You Are

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today it is our great pleasure to share with you a Contributor Column from Ron Rice, Senior Director-Government Relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

I provide a bio below.

Ron C. Rice has over 15 years of public policy experience in the fields of education, urban development, and community empowerment initiatives as an executive state government appointee and two-term local elected official.

Prior to joining the National Alliance, Ron served as the Special Assistant/Chief Policy Analyst for the Chief of Staff to the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, and as a city councilman for two terms in Newark under Mayor Cory Booker where he created his ward’s Education Support Committee and consistently supported charter school facility needs and their growth and advancement throughout the city, specifically working with KIPP (TEAM Rise and SPARK Academies), Uncommon Schools (North Star Academy), and community charters such as Marion P. Thomas Charter School, Lady Liberty Academy, and Adelaide Sanford Charter School.

Ron has created and served on numerous boards, commissions, and school boards. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C. with a degree in Political Science/Public Administration. Ron received his Juris Doctor from the Seton Hall University, School of Law in Newark, NJ.

Special thanks to Ron for contributing such a great piece. Let’s get straight to it!

The Next Iteration of Charter Schools Will Be Intentional, Of Color and Community/Economically Empowering-Are You Ready? I Don’t Think You Are

After 30 years of charter schools, the nation has witnessed the growth of this model of public education from being a few local schools serving as laboratories for innovation to improve traditional district schools to over 7,500 schools serving 3.3 million students in 44 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.

Educational outcomes from charter schools have grown from being mixed at best 15 years ago when compared to traditional district schools to posting, as a sector, better results than their district counterparts, reflected by the most recent Harvard University NAEP study in 2020.

Single, freestanding schools have grown into large charter management organizations (CMOs) such as KIPP, Uncommon Schools, Success Academy, Green Dot, Noble Network and Rocketship to name a few. But what will the next iteration of charter schools look like and why? We have some clues and the ecosystem may not resemble what you think.

Intentionally Diverse

Since Brown v. Board of Education-Topeka, KS (1954), America has had to come to grips with the fact that a groundbreaking Supreme Court decision and lots of federal statutory and regulatory laws and rules have not produced fully integrated schools. Even schools that have successfully “integrated,” the students in advanced placement vs. special education classes shows little integration within the school building as illustrated in “America To Me” …

… the STARZ docuseries that follows students, teachers and administrators in suburban Chicago’s Oak Park and River Forest High School over the course of a year. But there is promise in the intentionally diverse charter schools throughout the nation. The Diverse Charter Schools Coalition …

“ … connects [its] members with each other and with outside resources to help improve their practice and encourage school founders and leaders of high-performing public schools to embrace diversity while serving as a beacon and resource for new founders and other school leaders interested in creating integrated charter schools.” Their membership has grown from 14 founding member schools to 71 member schools and networks, collectively representing 211 individual schools serving nearly 80,000 students. While traditional public education districts debate and discuss the need for integration, the next iteration of charter schools are delivering on the promise of Brown. While President Biden and the US Department of Education promise to include equity in all facets of their decision-making, intentionally diverse charter schools are providing the roadmap if they would only care to pay attention.

Of Color

In the first 30 years of the charter school movement, the initial leaders and founders of schools, though noble and ground-breaking in their curriculum approaches, reimagining of schools and parental involvement, were decidedly White and male and often times politically conservative. But one could argue that the fastest growing CMOs and greatest number of new charter schools are being led and founded by people of color. African-American, LatinX, Asian and Native American charter school leaders are creating cultural affirming (Hmong, Lakota, Afrocentric) charter schools, STEM and trauma-informed instruction charter schools, single sex charter schools, charter schools for coding and charters serving over-age, under credited students that have left the traditional district school system. CMOs like Friendship

and Excellence Community Schools

… are led by dynamic African-American women.

Excellence CEO Charlene Reid
and Friendship CEO Patricia Brantley

Historically Black Colleges and Universities like Howard University …

… and Texas Southern University …

… have started charter elementary and Montessori schools respectively. Affiliates of organizations such as La Raza and the National Urban League have started charter schools and many Black-Greek lettered fraternities and sororities are in planning stages.

Community/Economically Empowering

And as more charter school leaders of color have come upon the scene to provide high-quality, high-performing education opportunities for the families they serve, they have also provided opportunities that the founders of the charter ideal may have never contemplated: economic empowerment of historically distressed communities. Charter schools continue to employ and use African-American and LatinX small businesses for their school needs from landscaping to computer services, from accounting to food preparation. These MBE and WBE vendors that lack the capacity or the political connections to compete for and gain a traditional district contract for the services they provide have found opportunities with charter schools. There are also community development initiatives such as Purpose Built Communities

… which has made the creation of high-quality charter schools the foundation to their overall mission to “… serve as a bridge, connecting community leaders with resources and partner organizations that share a vision to make holistic, at-scale investments in defined neighborhoods to achieve excellent and equitable outcomes for the people who live there.”

In short, the future of the charter school movement is underway and will do much more than just provide educational options for populations that have too few choices in too many facets of life the rest of us take for granted. It has already started to actually realize the unfulfilled promise of Brown, bring real equity to public education and develop underdeveloped communities, both urban and rural. The only question is are you ready for it because, ready or not, reality is upon us.