Some believe the answer to our so-called failing schools is Charters. If they read my previous post on barriers to learning, they might realize that the answers are many. So, let’s do a little delving into the subject of charter schools. Here are some questions and answers:
Q: What is a charter school?
A: Charter schools receive public money but are not subject to some of the rules, regs, and statutes that apply to other public schools. They may be public charters supported totally by the state or private charters run by parent groups, community organizations, or corporations. A charter school has a charter that has been approved by the state specifying accountability, admission policies, curriculum and structure.
Q: How does a charter work?
A: Charters are part of the public education system and are not allowed to charge tuition. Many charters are filled by a lottery-based system which is open to all students. If you have seen the documentary, Waiting for Superman, you will understand how the lottery system works. In a 2008 survey of United States charter schools, 59% of the schools reported that they had a waiting list.
Q: Where did the charter school movement begin?
A: Minnesota wrote the first charter school law in 1991. As of 2011, Minnesota had 149 registered charter schools, with more than 35,000 students. Texas approved the formation of charter schools in 1995. (Early critics feared that charter schools would lure the highest performing and most gifted students from centrally administered public schools. Instead, charter schools have tended to attract low income, minority, and low performing students.) In New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina the majority of public school students attend independent charter schools. Currently, California, Arizona and Michigan have the highest number of students enrolled in charters.
Q: What is their funding?
A: Charter schools may receive less public funding than traditional public schools. However, a portion of charter schools’ operating costs can come from sources outside public funding (such as private funding in the form of donations). Many charter schools do not provide transportation and special education services, so can operate successfully on less funding.
Q: Are teachers union members?
A: Many charters are exempt from states’ collective bargaining laws. This exemption has raised concerns because charter school teachers are often burned-out by working longer hours, in poor facilities, than public school teachers. Consequently, many teachers are attempting to establish collective bargaining rights to address these issues.
Q: How do charters fare in testing?
A: According to Jonathan Kozol …“the education industry represents the largest market opportunity” since health-care services were privatized during the 1970’s…from the point of view of private profit, “The K–12 market is the Big Enchilada.” Critics have accused for-profit entities and private foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation of funding Charter school initiatives to undermine public education and turn education into a “Business Model” which can make a profit.
So, are charter schools the answer? I don’t think so. Neither does Diane Ravitch. Charter schools won’t save the American school system, she says. Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University who worked in the first Bush administration as assistant secretary of education. In her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Ravitch argues that charter schools do little more than skim off the most motivated students, while giving crooks a chance to squander tax dollars on big salaries for administrators. What schools need now, Ravitch says, is a return to a curriculum that includes American history, civics, art, and music rather than the current obsession with skills testing.
I’ve seen parents who have put their hopes for their children in charters. I’ve seen those parents disappointed when those efforts failed. And I’ve seen parents who tried to get their child into a charter and were unsuccessful because of the lottery system. If not charters, then what’s the answer? Why not make ALL schools successful? Why not spend the money to get it right. Despite the problems that schools cannot solve (see my rant Barriers to Learning), there really are things that can be done to reduce those barriers.
Here are some things we can do:
1) reduce class sizes. Unlike what Mitt Romney thinks, class sizes do matter!
2) have year-round school. Six weeks on, 2 weeks off, all year long
3) have schools open until 6 pm at night. provide snacks, dinner and homework time
4) have nurses, doctors, dentists to provide needed services to students
5) reduce testing, have more teaching
6) have more interesting and fun activities – monthly classroom presentations on the stage, for example; organic gardening, as another
7) provide enrichment – trips to historical places; visits to Carnegie Hall, Greenbrier Valley Theater, Trillium Dance Theater; trips to Washington, DC
8) offer more parent enrichment opportunities
9) start a swim team….and on and on.
Yes. Most of these ideas take money. But our children are our future. We must invest in them. Charter schools are just a way for corporations to make money.
This is my rant today.