Opinion: Charter schools open door for black students
A recent story in the Detroit News contained some grim — but not surprising — news: Michigan is one of the worst states when it comes to sending black students to college.
Only 8.7 percent of undergraduates at Michigan’s universities are African Americans, and compared to where that number should be (17.1 percent, according to a report in The Education Trust), that ranks Michigan third-worst out of the 41 states they studied.
That’s totally unacceptable, and it pains me to see a statistic like that. It should be devastating and unacceptable to all of us.
It’s also the perfect illustration of why I decided to found the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in my hometown of Detroit in 2011. And I’m here to tell you there’s hope and optimism on the horizon. None of us needs to accept the fact that Michigan is one of the worst states when it comes to sending black students to college. We can be one of the best, and there’s a pathway to success.
JRLA is an open enrollment, tuition free, public charter high school in one of the toughest ZIP codes in Detroit — 48235, where I grew up. And even though we’ve only been in existence for eight years, we already rank as one of the top three open-enrollment high schools in Detroit when it comes to sending students to college.
Hear that again: JRLA has only been around since 2011, and we’re already one of the three best high schools in Detroit. We’re very proud of that success, and it hasn’t happened by accident. It’s been the result of hard-working scholars, talented educators and a very intentional program that’s designed to set our graduates up for success.
It’s also no coincidence that the top nine open-enrollment high schools in Detroit when it comes to college enrollment are all charter schools.
In my world, we look at the scoreboard a lot, and the scoreboard doesn’t lie. And here’s what the scoreboard shows:
According to the State of Michigan’s database, 77 percent of JRLA’s graduates from its first three graduation classes enrolled in either a two-year or four-year college within 12 months of graduation. That’s well above the Detroit average, and it even exceeds the statewide average of 68 percent over that same period.
In Detroit, just 14.4 percent of black women have a college degree, while just 9.1 percent of black men do. So when you have a high school in Detroit like JRLA that’s sending more than 75 percent of its graduates on to college, that’s something to note.
A full 100 percent of our graduates every year are accepted into college, and all of our scholars are required to apply to at least 11 colleges and universities.
And as a public charter school, we do all of this as a fully open-enrollment school. There are no tests to get in, no essays to fill out, no special requirements at all. We take any student who wants to enroll, and then we do everything we can to help them succeed.
Here’s how we’ve done it:
We’ve created a culture of high achievement and high expectations. We start talking about college from the minute our scholars walk in the door as freshmen.
There’s no substitute for hard work, so we have a longer school day and a longer school year.
Even though we’re just a high school, we look at JRLA as an eight-year program instead of just a four-year program. We have a full team of counselors and educators whose only job is helping our students once they get to college. They’re in constant contact with our graduates throughout their college career, helping them with everything from financial aid to finding a math tutor.
The result is that our students aren’t just prepared to get to college; they’re prepared to succeed in college.
In the next few weeks, we’re going to be seeing our first JRLA college graduates. Many of the scholars who entered the school as freshmen in our first year back in 2011 are getting ready to graduate from college in 2019.
That’s worth celebrating. And it should give all of us hope that we don’t need to accept anything less than the best for every student in Michigan.
Jalen Rose is a member of Michigan’s fabled Fab Five and works as a broadcaster for ABC and ESPN. He’s the founder of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter high school in Detroit.