Five years ago, I moved back to Houston and while I wasn’t familiar with the public education options available at that time, I knew as a mother of two brilliant Black boys I needed to learn quickly.

While you would think being in a higher socioeconomic bracket (my level of education and income) would place my sons in a better position for college preparation, there is research that suggests otherwise. Researchers found that regardless of the K-12 schools they attend, Black boys and men face additional challenges regardless of their socioeconomic status. “Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of America. And the gaps only worsen in the kind of neighborhoods that promise low poverty and good schools.”

This idea is backed up even further when you look at a recent report by brightbeam which highlights how even in this country’s most progressive cities a gap in achievement continues to exist between black and white students.  In fact, when looking at the data, researchers found that the gaps between lower-income black and white students were often about the same as the gaps between upper-income black and white students.

As a parent, I believe in parent choice and in my ability to make the best educational decisions for my children. I believe in having access to a plethora of options when it comes to schools. Depending on the neighborhood in which they live, their zoned public school may not be the best, which can limit their post-secondary education options.  I understand the importance of having a great education and all the options it affords you which is why I also support educational programs like My Child, My Voice and Breakthrough Houston.

Charters Aren’t The Answer: They’re One of Many Answers

After accepting a position with a nationally-ranked charter school system in Houston, I also enrolled my oldest son there as a sixth-grader. This decision proved to be extremely positive for both of us. I had complete access to teachers and administrators, my son was being taught a rigorous curriculum and I was advocating on behalf of thousands of children each day. 

But there were also challenges. At times, the duality of being both an employee and a parent was overwhelming. I could also see the school’s weaknesses. We didn’t always do a good job of engaging the community. In some instances, the student body did not represent the neighborhood’s demographics. Our school also lacked a variety of extracurricular activities, which research has shown correlate with strong student attendance, academic achievement and college aspirations.

Working in this public charter school empowered me with the authority to speak boldly about these issues. In the words of James Baldwin, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” That is my stance with our family’s school. I stand behind them because of their willingness to listen to feedback and course-correct.

Do I believe that charter schools are the answer to all the challenges in public education? No. However, I do believe charter schools are one of many answers to helping our students complete high school and be prepared for post-secondary education and/or a career. 

If you look at the number of private schools available, you are looking at school choice options for the wealthy. If you look at magnet schools, you are looking at school choice option for parents who understand the magnet application process. Public charter schools operate in the same manner—another school choice option for parents.

Ensuring our children get the education they deserve is challenging. Let’s not continue to narrow the available options parents have to educate their children.

Shannette Prince is the founder of Africa On My Back, a socially conscious fashion brand. We use a portion of our proceeds to fund study abroad opportunities for Brilliant Black Boys through the sale of handcrafted, African-print backpacks, bags and accessories. Learn more at and @africaonmyback across all social media platforms.


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