Alabama is one of our poorest states. It has a large number of children living in poverty in urban areas but also in rural areas.
This past spring, there was a heavy-duty political effort to pass charter school legislation in Alabama. The effort failed, but is likely to be revived in the next session. Charter schools are supposed to raise test scores, and their promoters say that one day, with more and more charter schools and ever-higher test scores, there won’t be any poverty. Test scores are supposed to be the best antidote to poverty.
Not everyone believes that the world works that way. Not just because there are large numbers of college graduates who are unemployed and underemployed, but because poverty is a mass phenomenon in this country and will never be overcome simply by getting more students to learn how to pick the right bubble on a standardized test. Not just because the tests are normed, and half of those who take them will always be in the bottom half by design, but because far more is needed to lift up people’s lives and provide economic stability and mobility than opening charter schools, some of which will be good, some of which will not.
Larry Lee is an Alabamian who has spent many days and months and years traveling the back roads of Alabama. When he was working for the state, he and his colleagues wrote a moving report on successful schools in rural districts. Lee described impoverished schools that were closely tied to their communities, where parents and teachers worked together to meet the basic needs of children, where schools survive because of the sacrifices of teachers, principals, parents, and the community. Finding teachers for schools in rural areas is never easy, and most come from the community and feel “called to teach.” Please read this report and think of it the next time you hear someone say that we are already spending too much on our schools.
Larry Lee is no fan of charter schools. He sees them as a diversion from the state’s responsibility to support a sound, basic education for all its children. But he know that the advocates will be back next legislative session. And he knows that charters won’t help the children and the communities that are always left behind.