By Katie Linehan - Co-Founder of LEARN and Middle School Teacher at Success Academy Harlem West
The LEARN Coalition advocates to improve the quality of education children receive in our public schools.
We believe every child deserves a high quality, world-class education that prepares him or her to compete in the global economy and lead productive, fulfilling lives. Indeed, the promise of a high quality education is a bedrock of fulfilling the American dream and one of our best tools to improve social and economic prosperity.
So, why does LEARN advocate for charter schools and how can opening the door to high performing public charter schools improve the quality of education in Omaha and throughout Nebraska? Simply put: because charter schools work for students and are particularly effective for children being failed by traditional systems.
The evidence overwhelmingly shows that high performing, public charter schools not only address the achievement gap (the difference in student outcomes based on race or economic status) but have the power to reverse the gap altogether. We cannot afford, nor should we tolerate, depriving our students of such opportunity.
Nebraska has one of the largest achievement gaps between black and white children in the Nation. Nebraska ranked last on the most recent National Assessment in Educational Progress (NAEP) in math for black eighth graders.
There are far too many schools in Nebraska where less than 50% of students are proficient in reading and less than 20% proficient in math or science. North Omaha has the greatest concentration of such low performing schools. The students in these schools, and the families in North Omaha, desperately need and absolutely deserve better options now. Charter schools, if approved by the Legislature, would provide that option.
While a new concept two decades ago, we now know how to replicate the success of high performing charter schools and networks. Recently, I left Omaha to teach at a charter school in Harlem. My school is part of a larger network of public charter schools serving nearly 10,000 students at 32 schools in the poorest neighborhoods of New York City. Though the portion of our students that qualify for free or reduced lunch and/or are a member of a minority race surpasses that of Omaha Public Schools, our students outperform their peers attending schools in much more affluent districts.
In fact, Success Academy students perform in the top 1-3% of all students in New York in math and reading and 100% of our students passed this year’s science exam. These results are remarkable, but not impossible to replicate with a high quality public charter school law. Furthermore, the same extraordinary outcomes exist in charter schools across the country. According to a recent study out of Stanford University, charter school students experience as many as 200 additional days of learning per year compared to their traditional school peers.
In my career, I have worked in North Omaha and specifically worked with youth in the community. I know, without a doubt, that the children in Omaha are absolutely as capable of success as the children in my current school in Harlem, or any school in Nebraska. Charter schools can lift the bar for all public schools, while delivering an immediate reprieve for thousands of children stuck in failing schools.
The inability to open high performing charter schools in Nebraska hampers needed progress and prevents many children from reaching their full potential. We at LEARN intend to change that. Together, we can improve education for all students in Nebraska.
Educators like Katie are making an enormous difference in the lives of children and families by teaching at public charter schools. Let's create these opportunities in Nebraska, too! Join our parent-powered school choice movement:
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