On June 28, U.S. Secretary of Education John King Jr. gave one of the most powerful compliments to teachers that I’ve ever heard.
He noted that his parents, both public school educators, died from illnesses by the time he was 12. He moved from relative to relative.
“I struggled a lot. And I was kicked out of a high school,” he said.
However, ultimately, “public school teachers saved my life.” He went on to earn degrees at Harvard, Columbia and Yale.
King spoke at an annual national conference sponsored by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. King described charters as “an important and permanent part of public education.”
But his praise for the potential impact of educators went beyond charter schools.
King acknowledged that sometimes students misbehave or, as he put it, engage in “challenging behaviors.” Despite this, King urged educators to “do everything you can to get to know students well.” That’s what educators did for him as he struggled.
He tried to apply those experiences as a public school teacher in Massachusetts, where he helped start a charter school.
King pointed out that more than 3 million students were suspended in 2013-14. He believes that’s too many.
He urged educators to learn from the most effective public schools—district and charter—that use strategies like restorative justice to provide consequences for students without sending them out of the school building.
King also noted charter school enrollment is increasing throughout the country. Both in my homestate of Minnesota and nationally, enrollment in charters has grown over the last seven years, while enrollment in traditional district schools declined.
Stefan Huh is the director of charter school programs at the U.S. Department of Education. He and I talked at the conference.
- Total public school enrollment was 49,065,594 in 2006-07 and 49,709,977 in 2013-14—an increase of 644,383.
- Of that total, in the same years, charter enrollment went from 1,157,359 to 2,519,065—an increase of 1,361,706.
- Traditional district enrollment (in district schools) decreased from 47,908,325 to 47,190,912—a decrease of 717,413.
Some Minnesota educators have learned that they can carry out their ideas about how to help students by starting charters. And as the statistics cited above show, growing numbers of families are selecting charters.
Charters in Minnesota also enroll a higher percentage of low-income and students of color than district public schools.
King urged educators, whether in district or charter schools, to remember the huge positive impact they can have.
Reflecting on his own experience, he believes that the best educators recognize “the vast potential of children.”