This post was originally published on Defender Network

By Laura Onyeneho

For more than two years, students have borne the brunt of the major challenges impacting the public school education system due to the global COVID-10 pandemic. Schools have faced severe staff shortages, students and educators struggled with mental health challenges and adapting virtual learning.

Children of color continue to be disproportionately affected particularly in predominantly Black school districts that were struggling far beyond the pandemic.

The prolong period of remote learning came at a high cost for students. The increase toll on learning, dropout rates, and learning loss set many students behind. As school prepared to re-open their school doors and apply their post pandemic strategies, parents looked for other educational options that will serve their children’s best interests. One of them is public charter schools.

“My children attended a traditional ISD, and I was told at the time when he was in second grade that he didn’t demonstrate the mastery of certain concepts at that grade level to be promoted,” said Tamural Frierson, reading teacher at Fallbrook Academy. “The school and instructor didn’t reach out to tell me my son was falling through the cracks until we had a parent teacher conference and still couldn’t explain to me what my son needed to help him improve.”

Frierson felt that that public school environment didn’t accommodate her child’s learning needs and moved her son to Harmony Public  School ranked #1 and #2 as the best charter school in Fort Bend County in 2022. Her child’s experience was much different than she had expected.

“My child was thriving. Students were being taught at an advanced level; it was so good I moved all of my children into the school. They have Saturday school and mandatory tutorials with a small classroom environment.”

Other important factors Frierson noted in her decision to move her children to charter school were:

  1. Diversity of ethnicities among students
  2. Teaching to the child’s strengths and not to a test
  3. Curriculum is tailored to reach students where they are
  4. Teachers include her in the academic journey of her children
  5. Challenges students to raise the bar and rise above the standard

A new report by the Texas Public Charter School Association found that charter schools in the state are serving more of the state’s most marginalized communities with less funding compared to traditional public schools.

“Texans really want to know whether the students are receiving the resources they need in order to not only recover from the pandemic, but also to thrive,” said Brian Whitley Vice President of Communications and Research Texas Public Charter Schools Association (TPCSA). “To answer that question, we need to understand where those families are choosing to attend school.”

There are 5 million students enrolled in traditional Texas public school compared to the 365,000 students enrolled in public charter schools. In southeast Texas, 48% of charter school students were the most disadvantage versus 22% in traditional public schools.

“I’ve enjoyed the aspect of how charter schools allow educators like myself to have a little bit more autonomy in the classroom than you would at a public school,” said Amanda Jones teacher at YES Prep Southside elementary. “I’m able to bring my best self to the curriculum and classroom.”

Jones said that it is not easy to elevate students to the point where they all can move into the next grade level. The charter school equips teachers with additional staff support, collaborations with different departments, and “in the moment” feedback from direct supervisors to improve on the quality of education for the students.

In a press briefing, Texas Public Charter School Association CEO Starlee Coleman said even though charter schools have been in Texas for 25 years, “there is still a misunderstanding about who public charter schools in Texas serve.” Charter schools give families the chance to pick schools suitable for their child’s well-being free from most rules and regulations that hinder traditional public schools.

For many families of color their options are sometimes limited to lower-performing neighborhood schools, so they look for the best options that will give the child a quality education. 

“Give education a little grace. We are all out here trying to make it work and do the very best for these kiddos whether it be in a traditional public school or charter,” said Jones. “It’s not easy and sometimes educators don’t get the recognition they deserve, but the most important part is to teach these kids how to he great humans and how they’re gifts can contribute to the community as they grow personally and academically.”