Choice in education: no more selling kids short

By devancrean

The achievement gap among low-income minority students has been a great challenge in education reform. Certainly low-income children face additional challenges in their lives, there’s no denying that. However, those challenges have become a convenient excuse for teachers, principals, and superintendents to avoid responsibility for the lack of achievement among these students.

The attitude is that these children have far too much to overcome, so there is just no way we can teach them. Not only is this dead wrong, it’s completely insulting. Worse yet, it’s keeping these kids from receiving a great education that will enable them to escape the burdens of poverty. There’s irony for you. Unfortunately, this attitude has become deeply entrenched among many urban public school systems. So much so that they remain unwilling to fully take on the challenge to move these low-income minority students forward.

There has to be an alternative. That alternative is the ability to chose a better school. A school where expectations and standards are high, and kids will certainly rise to that challenge regardless of their circumstances. It can be a private school, a charter school, or a better-performing neighborhood school in another district. But, it must be a place where kids will not be sold short on their education simply because some adults think their circumstances are too difficult.

Take for example, Arupe Jesuit High School in Denver, CO. Before any naysayers start chiming in, yes, it is a private Catholic school. But you don’t have to be Catholic to attend, and you certainly don’t need to be wealthy. They have a saying at Arupe Jesuit, “If you can afford to attend, you can’t go here.” Most kids are on scholarship, and the financial burden, if any, to their families is very little. They never turn away a family due to financial need. The vast majority of students come from lower-income Hispanic families from the surrounding neighborhood. In fact, 85 percent of the kids are part of the free and reduced lunch program.

And for those who continue to be naysayers, no, these kids are not cherry-picked for their academic prowess. Most of the kids come into the school a year and a half behind in math and reading. Yet, 100 percent of all graduating seniors are accepted to college – two and four year schools. So much for the burden of poverty excuse with these kids.

What is Arupe Jesuit doing differently? Well, it has little to do with the private Catholic aspect of the school and everything with high standards that students are expected to meet. For those who come in behind, Arupe Jesuit provides a freshman boot camp to help get them up to speed. They also have a longer school day, and provide weekend classes and tutoring for any students who need it.

But what is particularly exceptional about this school is that they are not only preparing these kids for college, they are preparing them for life. The school has a unique corporate work-study program that enables kids to gain real-life work experience while still in high school. And the same high expectations apply to their corporate work as well as to their schoolwork.

Without the opportunity to attend Arupe Jesuit, most of these students would be forced to attend the underperforming and/or failing public schools in their area. They would continue to be behind academically and wouldn’t have the incentive to graduate, attend college, or the chance to gain incredible work experience while still just in high school. The students at Arupe Jesuit are thriving in and out of the classroom. They are also destroying the myth that because they face additional challenges from poverty, they can’t succeed.

Again, whether it’s a private school, a charter school, or a better-performing neighborhood school in another district, the opportunity to escape a bad school provides kids the chance to succeed. That is the power of school choice. And, of course, not insulting the ability and intelligence of children just because they happen to come from difficult circumstances.