Opinion: Offer more school choice to African-American students

A school choice supporter holds a sign at a rally at the state Capitol. TAYLOR.CARPENTER@AJC.com

David Mitchell is founder, CEO and president of Better Outcomes for Our Kids or BOOK. An Atlanta-based nonprofit, BOOK promotes school choice options, including traditional public schools, public charters, virtual schools and home schools to the African-American community.

In this piece, Mitchell discusses why choice is critical to raising the academic performance of African-American students.

By David Mitchell

Challenges facing the African-American community can be traced to education. While education is the great equalizer, many schools are not meeting the needs of our children. And there are a number of reasons why this is happening; I’m not blaming the teachers, the schools, nor the parents. This issue is bigger than assigning blame. We have to do right by our children.

We have to provide them with a menu of school options that put them on the road to success. We have to expose them to traditional public schools, charter schools, and home school options to arrive at a solution that meets their needs. I support Ambassador Andrew Young’s position: “If you can have the public schools, with the charter freedom, to give the parents and the faculty a chance to introduce new ideas and try new things, that will be good.”

When you look at student performance indicators across race, African-American students often lag behind other students.

● For African-American children in Georgia, 36 percent performed below the basic level, 45 percent scored at the basic level, 18 percent at the proficient level, and 1 percent at the advanced level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test (US DOE 2015).

● While African-American students make up less than 16 percent of the K¬-12 student population in America, they make up 40 percent of the students attending schools with low graduation rates.

While these indicators are alarming, they don’t have to define our children. All children can learn and achieve. Our children can learn and achieve, we just have to ensure that they are in the right environment, with the right resources.

And this is why I started BOOK — Better Outcomes for Our Kids. We are on a mission to raise awareness throughout the African-American community about the educational options that benefit our children. BOOK was my brainchild around filling a gap in the African-American community to understand school choice. I found myself inadvertently on the school choice journey when my wife and I had to make a decision about where to send our children to school.

We spent countless hours trying to solve our own personal educational choices. As my wife and I continued to ponder our options, I was convinced that if I am someone who doesn’t know the available school options, my friends and others like me didn’t know their options either.

We’re not advocates for one type of school over another. We support schools that work for African-Americans … traditional, public charter. Informing African-American communities about public charters and school choice is our core function. We unapologetically focus on African-American communities because many have been devastated by underperforming schools and the lack of school choice.

For me, school choice is not pro charter, it’s pro good schools. My mom was an Atlanta Public Schools teacher for 20 years. I am a product of traditional APS schools. Both experiences made me the man I am today, and for that I am proud and thankful.

As part of our commitment to educating the African-American community in Atlanta about school choice, in partnership with Atlanta Board of Education Chair Courtney English, and with the support of the Kendeda Fund, we took a delegation of school and community leaders to Washington, D.C.,to tour an ecosystem similar to Atlanta that included schools that were high-performing in African-American communities. We toured Friendship Public Charter SchoolElsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School and KIPP DC.

We found a number of success examples that I am convinced can be replicated in Atlanta. And while all schools toured were not perfect, the communities that we toured had choices. Parents were informed about choices and they could exercise their options for their children. This is an example of what we need in Atlanta.

Our children represent our hopes and dreams for the future, and they deserve the best education that we can give them. They deserve schools that know no geographic, racial or economic boundaries. We have to deliver on our promise to our children. They deserve a chance to achieve. They deserve the best education.

Reader Comments 0

12 comments
JK1951
JK1951

I think we need to admit that many parents simply do not care about their child's education, at least not enough to actually do something about it. If you don't read to your pre-k child or do simple math tables when in the car etc. why would you think they can achieve the same results as those kids that are encouraged to learn?

Astropig
Astropig

Mr. Mitchell is 100% right here.The only people opposing real choice in education are the status quo relics that want to protect their power,privilege, and perks. 


You'll never get a straight answer to the question of why the status quo is afraid of choice for A-A (and other) students.When you ask that,get ready for personal venom to be spewed in your direction.That tells you ALL you need to know.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Let us say that a law says that you have to fly on an airline, and the only airline available to you treats its customers like crap - beating them up, dragging them off planes, cancelling flights anytime they want, taking strollers away from moms.  Would you not want some choice- a different airline that was not so unaffordable that it is really no choice at all?  Of course, you say "but our airline is trying to improve" but you don't see any improvement, all you see is talk and things stay the same or get worse.  

weetamoe
weetamoe

Did you talk to the D.C. parents whose children's school choice vouchers were taken away by the Obama administration? 

Astropig
Astropig

@weetamoe


Obama could do that,no problemo. HIS kids got to attend one of the most exclusive private schools on earth."Choice" is for ME, not for THEE,according to "Dear Leader".


insideview
insideview

I agree, their energy is better spent improving public schools rather than offering an escape options for a select few.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@insideview We have been trying for YEARS to improve traditional public schools and our advice falls on deaf ears.  The three biggest issues facing schools are discipline, attendance, and social promotion.  But the answers to these issues are not considered Politically Correct, so they are ignored.  When traditional public schools REFUSE to improve, and even institute policies that make things worse, then an alternative is the best solution - that is where school choice comes in.  FIX YOUR OWN PROBLEMS, or free the students!

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@class80olddog @insideview

1) Nothing about the leadership of public education in Atlanta the past several decades nor today says they are trying to improve public education.  They may say they are trying, but their behavior says otherwise… for example, school board chairperson Courtney English’s involvement with Mitchell’s BOOK.  They have been merely making change after change after change, and Mitchell’s BOOK is just a promotion for making more change rather than being an appeal to LEARN TO IMPROVE AND THEN DOING IT, CONTINUALLY!   Consequences that show up from all the ongoing change include, but are not limited to… guess what?… “Discipline, attendance, and social promotion” problems!

2) Public education is not the monopoly you here try to make it out to be.  Public education is inherently multifaceted simply because all the people involved are multifaceted.  “Choice,” not as much.  And that’s because public education comprises social systems – people, human beings -- whereas “choice” is much that of a mechanistic or business system that’s about managing THINGS and treating people like THINGs, as an airline – all airlines – treat people as things to be managed.  If your concern is “discipline, attendance, and social promotion” then you had better hope “choice” doesn’t take hold on a wholesale scale.  But if it does, then prepare for even worse “discipline, attendance, and social promotion.”

L_D
L_D

@class80olddog  you left off the single largest issue facing the schools : poverty.  If impoverished children start Kindergarten YEARS behind their peers, how long would you give schools to make up the difference? You cannot expect 2 or more years of academic gain in just one year.   I am not saying the other items you list are not issues within the schools, but the single greatest indicator of the overall academic achievement of a school is the pervasiveness of poverty in its student population - generally, the higher the poverty, the lower the scores.

So, instead of talking just about changing things in K-12, why not expand the conversation to how children can be better prepared for school? 

RichardRose
RichardRose

The biggest issue issue schools (and communities) face is the legacy of racial oppression that has created these pockets of poverty, despair and anger. The system must change where individuals are powerless to change themselves.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

Perhaps later a reasoned response but just now this…

Why are some African-Americans such as David Mitchell and Atlanta school board chairperson and Teach for America (TFA) alumni Courtney English so hell bent on destroying public education for African-American children in Atlanta rather than committing to improving it?  But then it’s quite easy to know why.

To improve requires the hard work of learning to improve, and that is just too heavy a lift for Mitchell and English and the currently serving school board members and their superintendent.  Their thing is “change,” as in when the superintendent speaks the regressive thinking that “changes are never easy.”

class80olddog
class80olddog

@EdJohnson The only way to improve is to honestly assess the causes of the poor performance in APS schools - and then bring REAL change to address these issues.  Poverty does not cause poor performance - there have been many, many children who came from poor families who excelled (Abraham Lincoln, maybe?).  The problem lies with behaviors that cause poverty and simultaneously cause poor performance in school.  Drug use, single motherhood, etc.  But the schools should not be social workers.  Address the issues that affect the school - discipline and attendance.  Don't compound the problems by cheating and socially promoting students who are not ready.  Fix your own problems and you will not have parents clamoring for more charter schools.  The existence of waiting lists for charter schools says that either they are great schools, or that the existing school are that terrible.