How African American parents select and evaluate charter school services for their fourth and fifth grade sons
Simmons, Juanita Marie
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African American children are disproportionately enrolled in Texas charter schools in relationship to the state school-age populations. Although recent academic gains have been made, African American students have not yet achieved as well as their Anglo counterpart. It is thought that one of the major causes of the achievement gap is social and cultural discontinuity between the culture of the teacher and the culture of the students’ family and community. Discontinuity is the result of misunderstandings between teachers and students in the classroom, and may also occur as a result of gender and socioeconomic status differences in teacher and students’ socialization process, simply referred to as institutional racism and sexism. Nationally, African American males are at the center of discussions on this academic achievement gap due to their referrals into special education classes, discipline referrals, disproportionate expulsions, and lower-level course tracking. African American parents may perceive charter schools as a viable choice in their search for educational equity for their sons. This study is an investigation of how African American parents select and evaluate charter school services for their fourth and fifth grade sons. The impetus for the focus was generated as a response to two issues: (1) the disproportionate numbers of African American males who enrolled into charter schools during their fourth and/or fifth grade years, as studies identify these grades as the height of the achievement gap, and (2) the research literature is replete with data on the high-poverty, minority student underachievement and the impact of racism and sexism, but little is found on how and why many African American parents perceive charter schools as the solution to these problems. A single-case study was the qualitative research method used to examine how African American parents select and evaluate charter school services for their fourth and fifth-grade sons. The demographics of the selected charter school consisted of a student body, faculty, administration and board composed of at least fifty-percent African Americans. Extensive interviews with eight African American parents helped to answer the research questions. Findings of this study indicate that African American parents selected this charter school because of experiences with traditional public schools that they perceived to suggest racial or gender bias, i.e. low expectations and inappropriate discipline management. They evaluated their charter as effectively serving their sons’ needs through parental involvement, high academic expectations, and culturally relevant instructions. These parents perceived that the charter alleviated the traditional bureaucratic restraints, and thus, allowed for better services to their sons.