Philly’s Black-led charter schools band together for ‘Black Schools Matter’ campaign

Students at Boys' Latin of Philadelphia Charter School are shown in 2013. Boys' Latin is one of 21 charter schools in the city that joined the coalition. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Students at Boys' Latin of Philadelphia Charter School are shown in 2013. Boys' Latin is one of 21 charter schools in the city that joined the coalition. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A group of Philadelphia charter schools led by Black educators are banding together to highlight racial inequities in the public school system, and advocate for more resources.

The African American Charter School Coalition includes 21 schools that serve more than 13,000 children and families across the city. On Tuesday, organizers announced the formation of the group, and the launch of its “Black Schools Matter” campaign.

“Our schools provide high quality educational programs,” said Naomi Johnson Booker, CEO of Global Leadership Academy Charter School. “Yet we have to continue to fight to stop budget cuts at the state level, and city officials who advocate moratoriums and dissolution of public charter schools.”

Members of the coalition said Black charters have received an unfair amount of scrutiny from school district officials, who have the authority to close underperforming schools as part of a lengthy public process that includes a review of academic, financial and organizational health.

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From 2014 to 2019, nine of 14 Philadelphia charter schools that have closed or agreed to close if they didn’t meet certain requirements were run by school leaders of color, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Stacy Philips, CEO of West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School, said Black students benefit from attending schools staffed and led by Black people in ways that aren’t always captured in test scores or other metrics used during the charter renewal process.

“Black schools offer Black children a chance to have a natural cultural connection,” she said. “And quite frankly it gives our children the opportunity to be unapologetically Black without any retribution, and without judgment of any kind.”

The coalition is asking for the School District of Philadelphia to impose a moratorium on closing Black founded and led charter schools until the district’s charter evaluation process is revamped.

In a letter, Philadelphia School Board President Joyce Wilkerson said the board looks forward to working with the group, but stopped short of committing to major changes.

“We have a framework for monitoring and evaluating schools that focuses on student outcomes, and we apply it equitably,” Wilkerson wrote.

Some of Philadelphia’s first charter schools were opened by Black leaders who sought to offer a distinct alternative to the school district’s style and curriculum. As the school choice movement grew, many of its leading proponents made test-based accountability the key argument in pitches to expand the charter sector.

Over the ensuing decades, as many charters have failed to outperform district schools on test data, fissures have grown among charter supporters on what criteria to use to judge the quality of a school.

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Currently, 75,000 students are enrolled in charter schools in Philadelphia — more than a third of total public school enrollment in the city.

Some of that enrollment was driven higher by the school district voluntarily handing control of some of its own schools to Black and Latino-led charter schools through the Renaissance program. Universal, Aspira and Booker’s Global Leadership were among those given greenlights.

Philadelphia City Councilmembers Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Isaiah Thomas, and Curtis Jones spoke in support of the coalition, along with State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.

The press conference also featured the testimony of some parents and grandparents with children enrolled at Black-led charter schools.

Diane Clayton’s granddaughter is enrolled in third grade at the Global Leadership Academy.

Our children are taught self-love, and they are encouraged and challenged to achieve greatness,” she said. “That they are future leaders of the world — that they are kings and queens, right now.”

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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