This fall, Jose Serrano will become the first person in his family to attend college – and not just any college. Jose was awarded a full academic scholarship to Stanford University, where he plans to study astrophysics.
In his application essay, Jose told Stanford that he was drawn to the stars as he lay each night on the worn-out, second-hand couch he sleeps on in the small apartment he shares with his mother. Jose stares into the night sky, dreaming of a better life. The couch, he wrote, is his “lonely planet,” a constant reminder of how difficult his life has been and a motivation to work hard to change it.
Jose is going to Stanford for two reasons: his determination – in addition to excelling in his regular course work, he took an honors physics class after school to deepen his knowledge – and the outstanding education he’s received at Noble Street College Prep high school in Chicago.
Noble Street is part of the Noble network of public charter schools that sends to college 90 percent of its students, the vast majority of whom come from impoverished inner city neighborhoods. These schools and others like them around the country are proving that there is no such thing as an “unteachable” child. Every child is capable of academic success.
This week marks the 15th annual charter schools week and the U.S. House of Representatives is poised to pass bipartisan legislation that would reauthorize the federal charter schools program, opening the door to charter school networks like Noble to apply for federal funds to serve more student like Jose. The Senate will soon introduce a similar piece of legislation. This effort could not come at a better time.
More than 2.5 million students are attending charter schools, but 1 million more names are on charter school waitlists. Demand is high because charters are changing lives.
The most notable successes have come in big cities, where charter schools are closing achievement gaps. Recent analyses by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) show that the average charter school student in New York and Los Angeles gains months of additional learning in a single school year compared to peers in traditional public schools.
In suburban areas, too, charter schools are raising the bar. Students at the BASIS charter schools in Tucson and Scottsdale, Arizona, took the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment – the worldwide test for high school students that shows the U.S. lagging most developed nations. BASIS students scored higher than the average of every country tested, and placed in the top one percent of schools globally in reading and math.
Charter schools are also expanding in rural areas. Rural communities suffer many of the same challenges that cities do, including high poverty, low rates of college education among parents, and staffing shortages. Add to this declining populations, limited tax bases, and the sheer distance involved in getting to some rural schools every day, and it’s easy to understand why many rural parents are crying out for more options.
Fortunately, charter schools like the Walton Rural Life Center in Walton, Kansas, are reinvigorating communities. Walton’s elementary school program uses hands-on agricultural education to teach lessons across the curriculum. Students are exposed to a pivotal aspect of their local history and economy, while reaching the state’s standard of excellence in reading, math, and science across all grades.