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Charter school education: A great investment in the future of Memphis

The idea of the community and parents designing a school model for students that promotes specific subject interests and, simultaneously, achieves academic and personal success, is a highly ambitious and risky proposition.
 Brian Clay

The idea of the community and parents designing a school model for students that promotes specific subject interests and, simultaneously, achieves academic and personal success, is a highly ambitious and risky proposition. Furthermore, seeking guidance from a Memphis City Schools system and attempting to exceed the lofty standards that the system cannot itself achieve makes the entire charter school endeavor in Memphis one of the most enterprising ventures this city has ever seen.  

Two main questions have been answered: Would charter schools be effective within the ever-changing landscape of standards in the state and the nation? And would children who have historically not achieved, academically, conform to the rigid curriculum set by many of the charter schools?

To the surprise of many educators, politicians and community leaders who originally opposed the idea, charter schools have been embraced by the community and are having a positive academic effect on school children all across the city. What is happening is that students are meeting academic challenges at a pace that is making critics reevaluate the way education is delivered to our young people. Ten (10) of the 33 Memphis City Schools cited as being in good standing are charter schools,  

News stories have focused on Promise Academy, Memphis Business Academy and the much-celebrated Memphis Academy of Science & Engineering failure to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) for the second year. However, after exploring recent data, each school is exceeding Memphis City Schools Educational standards and is meeting expectations of parents.

For example, 87 percent of the third and fourth graders at Promise Academy are reading on grade level, compared to 67 percent in traditional public schools in the system; Memphis Academy of Science & Engineering has a 93 percent graduation rate, and 96 percent of sixth graders at Memphis Business Academy scored proficient or higher on state-mandated tests.

Yo! Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, the first charter high school in the state, is credited with reshaping the landscape of education and youth services in high-poverty areas of the city. Despite the trappings of gang violence, drug addiction, and welfare dependency, students were nurtured to succeed. With 60 percent of the students enrolled in honors classes, the school had a graduation rate of 93 percent, a college entrance rate of 84 percent and a college graduation rate of almost 80 percent.

In the South Memphis area alone, there was a 41 percent increase in college enrollment during the first three years of the Yo! Memphis program. The school was closed by Memphis City Schools in 2007, citing that it failed to make AYP.

Charter schools are impacted by the regulatory constraints of the No Child Left Behind Act, just as traditional public schools are. A set of standards that more fairly evaluates the success of all schools, including charter schools, is needed.

Former Mayor and Memphis City Schools Superintendent, Dr. W.W. Herenton, has put together a proposal that would allow him to operate nine Charter Schools in the Greater Memphis Community. Dr. Herenton, who is regarded as one of Memphis’s most accomplished educators, plans to serve students labeled as “hard to teach,” through the W.E.B. DuBois Consortium, which plans to open schools in zip codes 38105, 38106, 38107, 38109, 38126 and in Shelby County.    

There is no disputing that charter schools provide an opportunity for low income and disadvantaged children to succeed academically and ultimately overcome the economic and social conditions in their communities. Thus, the reality is that charter school education is a great investment in the future of Memphis.


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