When It Comes to Charter Schools, Bernie Sanders Needs to Learn From Black Families

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he would use his power and platform to temporarily ban Black families from exercising the right to make choices about their children’s education.

It would be disheartening to hear that a senator (from a virtually all-White state) would attempt to decrease parental right to school options, except that Black families are wholly accustomed to White people whose lives are seeping in privilege and steeped in patriarchy to be disengaged with the real lives, priorities, and the impact of being walled off from quality options that Black families are subjected to.

This call for a moratorium is another arrogant and backhanded way for disconnected affluent politicians to tell Black families, I know what’s best for your children…you don’t.

Instead of attempting to find actual educational policies that will positively impact the 8 million Black families and the 17 million Latino families in America’s public schools, Bernie wants to keep parental choice as a tool for his own people; the White, the affluent, the privileged.

In Philadelphia, in 2014-15, less than 60% of Black boys graduated high school in four years. Hey, Bernie, put a moratorium on the racist systems that created this unacceptable scenario. Across the country, Black students, beginning with 4-year-olds, are suspended and expelled at obscene rates, several states still allow educators in public schools to whip kids, many of whom are poor Black students. If you want to make a splash, get on your platform about these educational issues and lack of outcomes, not call for halting one of the few options for Black families that doesn’t involve paying for their children’s education through a mortgage in a wealthy suburb or well-to-do enclave within a city.


Before a well-heeled politician, like Bernie Sanders, with almost zero lived experience that relates to Black families prioritizes a boneheaded policy that negatively impacts Black students’ outcomes, quality of education, and therefore, quality of life, he should visit schools outside of Vermont. Come to Philadelphia and hear from Black families that have chosen to send their children to Mastery Charter Schools. Visit the Shoemaker Campus, where students feel safe, respected and engaged.

Talk to the college graduates we have produced, the student activists who started Raised Woke, and the kids who spend their entire senior year as full-time dual enrollment students. Come speak to students who struggled but persisted because they found in our charter school, a committed and caring staff, speak to Black parents who put their child in our schools years ago and then choose to enroll other children as well, and engage those students who have earned millions of dollars to colleges. As a matter of fact, if West Philly is too far for you, go to UVM (University of Vermont) and speak to the students from Shoemaker who attend there and know that more are on their way. Ask them about their experiences. Have you not learned, from your previous campaign, to trust these Black mothers and fathers?

Even more importantly, come engage Black families who languish on waitlists for quality seats in America’s public school systems. We need less rhetoric about moratoriums and more actions that implement permanent ending of inadequate funding, tiered systems of education for those who are connected and privileged, and institutional racism that requires Black families to not have agency in their choices for how to educate their children. This is what we all need to focus on, myself included: How can we better serve our communities, right now, not later.

Speak to the 87% of the 9,000 Black kids that Professor Paul Harrington of Drexel University, said graduated high school who received no post-secondary training whatsoever.

Since you have limited knowledge or experience of the frustrations of Black people throughout the country who watch politicians call for policies that mitigate their chances for educational justice, engage with them, listen to them, side with them. Moratoriums on one of the very things that most Black people support is nothing short of gross shortsightedness.

This blog was originally published on the Education Post’s blog page.

Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.


  1. It would help if I could see the actual program Bernie is espousing. I also wold ike to know your thoughts on how to enhance the educational experience in the 220 Public, non- charter schools in Philadelphia


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Up Next