African-American families take a chance on charter schools

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When the staff called out, “Number 4”, Gary Cooper, a young African-American father jumped up with his 6-year old daughter and yelled, “We got it, we got in”.

After Cooper raced on stage to claim the prize —a first grade seat — for his daughter he told me, “I feel like I actually won a million dollars”.

theGrio VIDEO: Parents face few options in fight for better education

Cooper didn’t win a million dollars. But a winning lottery ticket for admission to Dekalb Academy of Technology and the Environment, D.A.T.E., he says, is a golden opportunity for his child.

D.A.T.E. is a high-performing public charter school.

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It’s hard to overstate the excitement and anxiety that filled the auditorium outside of Atlanta that day. Everyone in the room felt it, including me. And this goes on across the country every time there’s a lottery drawing for a charter school, you find parents and people who care about kids on the edge of their seats.

While charter schools advertise themselves as a better way of educating children there’s no overwhelming evidence that they’re better at producing higher test scores than traditional public schools. Without a doubt some are extraordinarily successful.
But what they all seem to have is a group of people willing to work very hard for a common cause — educating children.

It seems unlikely that the 5,000 public charter schools with 1.7 million students are about to become the norm for the nation’s 50 million public school children in almost 100,000 schools. But maybe, just maybe, the spirit that makes a parent stand-in line, fill-out forms, and do what’s necessary for their child to have a chance at a good education will spread.

The fact that so many people turn out for so few available seats in charter schools speaks volumes about the strong need to find more and better opportunities for educating America’s children.