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Our next Education secretary must support all public schools — including charters

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As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, one of the big questions is whom he will name as the new secretary of Education. There’s no question that his pick must renew our country’s focus on supporting public schools. But this has reignited a familiar, unproductive debate about which public schools deserve support. 

Already, there’s been a push to cast traditional district schools and public charter schools as at odds with one another, and to put forth candidates who will prioritize the interests of districts and teachers’ unions at the expense of charter schools. Biden must reject this false dichotomy. He must live up to his commitment to be a president for all Americans, including all children. And he must make good on his promise to show up for the same communities of color who showed up for him.   

Our next Education secretary must be inclusive, someone who embraces public education in all its forms, and who will partner with district and public charter schools alike. This isn’t a zero-sum game: All children deserve support, which means all public schools deserve support, including public charter schools. In a deeply divided time, American students and families need a united front more than ever. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, at last count more than three million American students were enrolled in charter schools, representing 6 percent of all public school students in the U.S. 

And while all of us in public education are working to improve the system, especially for our most vulnerable students, at KIPP, we are also delivering on our promises: A decade of independent research has found that students who attend KIPP schools have better academic outcomes and are more likely to succeed in college than their neighborhood peers.

Charter schools are public schools. We are neighborhood schools whose enrollment reflects the communities in which we work. We are tuition-free, open-enrollment schools, with no entrance tests or academic requirements for enrollment. By offering the kind of high-quality college and career-prep education that has historically been available only to the nation’s most privileged students, our schools have become an integral part of the American public school eco-system.  

In a country where systemic racism and oppression often determine who gets to live in which neighborhoods, a family’s local public-school options still partly define their children’s destiny. That’s not going to change overnight, and certainly not by selecting an Education secretary who might try to diminish funding for the very schools that Black and Latinx parents have decided are the right school for their child.  

Our next Education secretary must recognize and harness the collective strength of all public schools and respect the choices of parents throughout the country. He or she must be someone who brings us together rather than apart, someone who prioritizes families, supports all high-quality public schools and holds their post while placing the advancement of equity at the center of everything they do. Biden could make a powerful statement of inclusion and equity by appointing a former teacher and a woman of color to the post.   

We have a lot of work to do to dismantle oppressive systems in our public schools and to ensure that every child has a chance to learn and thrive. It is time to choose solidarity over squabbling; kids over quarreling.  

Lorén Cox, PhD, is senior director of policy, advocacy and community engagement at the KIPP Foundation.

Tags Alternative education Charter school Charter schools in the United States Department of Education Education reform Joe Biden KIPP

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