the right audienceThank you for Walton Collins's
informative article, "Teachable
Moments," about the North Kenwood/Oakland (NK/O) Charter School in the
one-sided it falls off my bookshelf."
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.
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.
A. Sizemore, PhD'79
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.
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.
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.
invite Dr. Sizemore to visit and see for herself a school that is striving to
serve all children equally.