IMAGE:  October 2002 GRAPHIC:  University of Chicago Magazine
 
OCTOBER 2002
Volume 95, Issue 1
 
 
   
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"…so one-sided it falls off my bookshelf."

Teaching the right audience
Thank you for Walton Collins's informative article, "Teachable Moments," about the North Kenwood/Oakland (NK/O) Charter School in the August/02 issue.

As a charter school supporter, however, I had the following concerns: (1) the school does not seem to service the students whose education is most in jeopardy (the percentage of low-income students is below the average for city schools and there is a dramatic difference between NK/O students and those in the Chicago Public Schools regarding discipline problems); and (2) although the school's student body seems to be predominantly African American from the pictures, there was no indication that the African American heritage was included in the curriculum. I do agree that the Jewish Holocaust must be taught, but then so must be the African American. Every concept illustrated by the former can be taught by the latter. Neither should be forgotten.

North Kenwood/Oakland is an area of gentrification where the low-income residents are being relocated. In addition to the NK/O Charter School, Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School, 4445 S. Drexel, has been redesigned into a college preparatory high school where admission requires passing a test and having high academic achievement. This is the logical high school for graduates of NK/O, and the first class of freshmen entered in September 2002. The Chicago Public Schools system has planned and implemented a number of schools and programs which meet the needs of those who already achieve and of those who have failed. When will it create schools for the students who are low achieving? I thought this was the purpose of the charter schools. If charter schools become a part of the segregation of students by race and class, the present academic problems of the Chicago Public Schools will be exacerbated, not diminished.

Barbara A. Sizemore, PhD'79
Chicago


Michael T. Johnson, principal, and Marvin Hoffman, founding director, of North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School, reply: Dr. Sizemore has had a long and distinguished career in Chicago education. However her letter contains inaccurate and faulty information about charter schools in general and about our school in particular that we would like to clarify.

NK/O is a professional development school which works to support other CPS schools in their efforts to improve instruction. As such, we attempt to maintain a population that approximates as closely as possible that of the city's schools. More than 2/3 of our students are low income and we actively recruit such students. State law prevents charter schools from establishing any admissions criteria, including income. Although we share Dr. Sizemore's passion for improving education for those who have been least well served, that is not the reason, as she asserts, that charter schools were created. They were intended more broadly to encourage new models in public education, a mission we believe we are fulfilling.

There seems to be a contradiction between Dr. Sizemore's implicit criticism of what she sees as an inadequate number of low-income students at NK/O and her concern that charter schools "could become a part of the segregation of students by race and class." In fact, we are proud of the fact that our school is successfully serving both low- and middle-income families. Few institutions rise to that challenge.

Dr. Sizemore makes two further assumptions-on the basis of inadequate data-that we are somehow different in ways that discredit our work because: a) we have fewer discipline problems than other CPS schools, and b) we are not addressing the cultural needs of our African-American students. On the first score, although we are not without our share of discipline problems, if they are fewer it is not because we have "better" children, but because we have created a caring community surrounded by numerous social supports. These are options open to all schools, as enlightened leaders at other CPS schools have demonstrated. Second, we do not teach the Holocaust (which is, by the way, a required part of every school's curriculum, according to Illinois law) to the exclusion of culturally relevant material. Our language arts and social studies curriculum is rich in the study of the proud and difficult history of African Americans in this country and a high point of each year has been a Rites of Passage ceremony, strongly rooted in African traditions.

Finally, Dr. Sizemore correctly points to the reconstitution of Martin Luther King High School, just a few blocks from us, part of CPS's efforts to improve education on the South Side. Three members of our first graduating class were fortunate enough to be admitted there. As a charter school, we cannot establish residential requirements and, therefore are not a neighborhood school, but we are pleased to be part of the revitalization of a once-proud neighborhood.

We invite Dr. Sizemore to visit and see for herself a school that is striving to serve all children equally.



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