While almost everyone acknowledges these problems begin in childhood, the failure of urban public schools is an extremely touchy subject. Many teachers are quick to point out the chaotic environments poor urban students go home to every day. On the other hand, parents who cannot afford private school are frustrated with the disorderly school environments to which their children are exposed. Unfortunately, both are correct: too many inner city parents do not provide the structure and discipline their children need to succeed, but too many urban classrooms lack precisely the same things.
These are exceedingly complicated problems with multiple causes, and they will not be speedily resolved with one particular intervention. However, that does NOT mean there is nothing we can do: we must increase educational choice for urban parents, and local churches must equip those parents to prepare their children for educational success.
According to Andrew Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, “Across all [Chicago area] charter schools, the average growth rate of 3.8 scale points over those three years is 60 percent higher than the Chicago average, an average that includes selective enrollment high schools.” This means inner city children in Chicago charter schools showed more improvement than middle class children in magnet schools. Most famously, Urban Prep Academy in Chicago has achieved 100 percent college enrollment for its all-male (and almost entirely black) graduating class for two years successively.
How can we duplicate these results? Charter schools that show the most success have comprehensive behavior policies, intense coaching of teachers, longer school days and a “no excuses” approach to education. Better trained teachers are able to offer rigorous instruction as well as be better attuned to the particular needs of their students. For students from a disordered home environment, longer days not only allow for more instruction, but limit the time students are unsupervised or subjected to poor influences.
The “no-excuses” approach is vital to student success. Students of any socioeconomic status who are given excuses not to achieve will find ways to fail, but poor students lack stable parents who can cushion their fall until they determine a course of action toward a future. It is not surprising then how schools that acknowledge the obstacles many urban students face but refuse to accept them as excuses for failure are seeing their students succeed at higher rates.
I want to encourage you to advocate for charter schools in your region. Be sure your county commissioners and state representatives are clear on your opinions regarding the need for quality education from the youngest student to the postgraduate level. We can make a difference today for the future of the next generation of Americans.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.