Second grader Lamiya Benton claps during the unity circle, which begins each day at Sizemore. Photo: Alyssa Schukar, New York Times
In a Chicago “neighborhood riddled with crime, blight and poverty,” an “Afrocentric” charter school has strong supporters — and very low test scores — reports John Eligon for the New York Times. The district wants to close Sizemore Academy. Backers say the K-8 school has instilled confidence in children suffering from “the residual effects of slavery.”
Like dozens of African-centered schools across the country, Sizemore embodies much of what racial justice activists are screaming from rooftops. Suspension is a last resort. Teachers address students by courtesy titles and their last names. The accomplishments of blacks are front and center in lesson plans.
But students — 97 percent from low-income families — test well below the district average in reading and math. Scores are low at most Afrocentric charters, concludes a recent study by Martell L. Teasley of the University of Texas at San Antonio.
While Chicago Public Schools “values providing enriching cultural experiences for all our students, it is unacceptable to fail to teach students basic math and reading skills, no matter which school model is used,” said Emily Bittner, a district spokeswoman in an email.
The day starts with African drumming, reports Eligon. Students “raise their right fists to salute both the American and the red, black and green Pan-African flags.” They chant, “We are African people” and commit themselves to “sustainable living, self-determination and self-respect.”
The theory is that in a world where negative images of blacks breed hopelessness, a curriculum centered on the strength, beauty and accomplishments of the African diaspora lifts disadvantaged black children. And that prepares them for success better than a traditional Eurocentric education, which advocates say reduces blacks in history to little more than slaves and the token civil rights hero.
. . . To create a familial bond, students address the faculty and staff as “Mama” and “Baba,” meaning mother and father in Swahili. . . .
Students are taught to conduct themselves by seven ancient Egyptian virtues: truth, justice, righteousness, order, balance, harmony and reciprocity.
. . . First graders, who already had learned to sing a song in Spanish, were learning to speak Igbo, a major language in Nigeria.
The Illinois Charter Commission voted yesterday to keep Sizemore open, reversing the district’s decision to close the school. The commission’s staff said the school is making progress.