A charter school leader responds to charter critic

John Dues

Aaron and I responded to recent anti-charter school pieces that have popped up in some of the state’s newspapers in Hard to Kill Charter School Canards. As follow up to this, we’d like to share the first part of a letter written by educator John Dues.  John is school director for Columbus Collegiate Academy in Columbus and he was inspired to respond to some of the (mis)information shared in a letter to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch by Maureen Reedy over the weekend. We are happy to share his thoughtful insights. -Terry Ryan

This letter is written in response to the Letter to the Editor you wrote that appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on Saturday, April 6, 2013. My sincere hope is that you read this letter with an open mind and seriously consider a viewpoint different from your own on the topic of charter schools.

I believe we could learn a lot from each other, and I would be more than willing to sit down over coffee to discuss the contents of this letter. I am also extending an open invitation to you to visit Columbus Collegiate Academy, a high-performing, high poverty charter school on the Near East Side of Columbus, where I serve as the School Director.

In 2005, after teaching fifth grade in Atlanta Public Schools and returning to Ohio to earn my Master of Education degree, I took a job with a charter school in Denver, Colorado. My mom, who worked as a special education teacher before raising six boys, was currently serving on the Board of Education in the small, Ohio town where I grew up. She bluntly asked, “Why would you want to work in a charter school?” At the time, I didn’t have a well-thought out answer.

Over the last seven years, however, I have come to see school choice as a key component in the civil rights issue of our time- access to a high-quality education. Unfortunately, 59 years after Brown vs. Board of Education declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional, many low income students of color are still denied this most basic of rights.

The laws have changed, but far too many students do not have access to high-quality schools. In fact, right here in the city of Columbus, nearly 30,000 students attend a school building that is rated in Academic Emergency or Academic Watch. Because the school you attend is most often tied to the zip code in which you live, many of these students have no other choice but to attend failing schools. Their families do not have the resources to pick up and move or send their children to expensive private schools.

Charter schools exist for this reason. In areas where the only option is a failing neighborhood school, charter schools can provide hope to parents desperate for something better. Columbus Collegiate Academy is one of these schools. Despite serving a challenging student demographic, we are an Excellent-rated school. Our staff works tirelessly to ensure that our students receive an education that will put them squarely on a college and career-ready track.

Nearly 90% of our students qualify for the Federal Free/Reduced Lunch program, and most come to us in sixth grade (we are a 6th-8th middle school) at least one year below grade level in reading and math. In fact, almost half of our students are three or more years behind in reading, and more than a quarter are three or more years behind in math. The vast majority of our students attended elementary school in the Columbus City school district.

After I read your letter, I have to admit that I was more than a little upset. While I am sure you did your research, and could produce the sources for the data you included, I feel that at the very least there is a misrepresentation of the facts throughout. As I stated above, my hope is that you seriously consider the data that I present in the rest of this letter in response to your points.

To read the rest of the letter click here.

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