Charter Schools

There’s been a lot of talk lately about charter schools.  Maybe, maybe too much talk.  This blog is not a rebel blog…

I’m amazingly frustrated by the current attitude towards the “choice” between public schools and charter schools.  I find this “argument” to be both counter-productive and harmful to education.  I think in our American zeal to spur competition (emulate the business model), we’ve created an atmosphere of “either-or” rather than an atmosphere of sharing and improvement.  Truthfully, we should be crying “both” rather than rallying for one over the other.  After all, this ISN’T the cola wars.

In my mind, charter schools should be the R&D of education.  Often they are created by people with both strict and innovative ideas of what education should be, should encompass, and should deliver.  By putting together an experimental atmosphere, being free of some of the constraints of “normal” educational systems (Hell, I went to a school where my parents signed a form saying we could be SPANKED.  How’s that for operating outside the boundaries?), charters are allowed to see, real-time, how operating differently than the public schools works.  Those innovations or reinventions or rediscoveries that worked should have then been shared and put into “production” at the public schools.  We should be working together.  Not setting up battle lines.

Instead, charters have been painted as  sanctuaries or safe havens from the public school, setting up competition and breeding resentment.  How effective is that?  It’s like pitting hospitals against each other.  How does that help the patient?  That’s right.  It doesn’t.  But then, I worry that this isn’t about eduction (as in delivering it).  I feel it’s about breaking unions, putting women back where they belong (don’t tell me teaching isn’t a feminist issue), and spreading fear throughout the land.  It’s not about improvement, or we’d be allowed to improve in the way that’s BEST for our schools.  You know, like a charter.

My biggest concern regarding this either-or attitude is that many charter schools seem to be taking on an “Animal Farm” or “Won’t Get Fooled Again” atmosphere.  The very thing they are railing against is what they become.  Rather than stating, “Yes, we’re different and here’s how and why.” it’s become “Here’s why we’re better than your local school, and we have the financial backing from [insert favorite local business here] to prove it.”  I’m sorry, we’re skeptical of drug trials conducted by the very company that will profit from the sale of said drugs. Hell, no one trusts tobacco companies promising that smoking is good for you.  Why aren’t we skeptical of schools underwritten and funded by the very businesses who are against local schools? Don’t you think we should QUESTION the underlying impetus?

There are strategies and ideas being used in charter schools that can clearly positively affect public schools.  I’m guessing that the whole “uniform” policy currently held by many urban public schools stemmed from charters.  There are also strategies that, while effective in charter schools, can’t be rolled out at all on a public school level.  For example, I can’t see getting 100% of public school parents to sign off on spanking for their students who misbehave.  Furthermore, many charter schools have parent agreements with how much time parents are expected to put into the school to make sure the kids get as many experiences as possible.  Public schools can’t force parents to do this; therefore, a good strategy is left behind.

I agree that many charters allow for a “private” school education at a “public” school cost.  However, if we were to get parents on board, agreeing to the strategies used in many charter schools and volunteering for the best of EVERY child, one could also get a “private” school education at a “public” school price at the local public school.  Look at your high API schools, this is often the case — involved parents, interactive and active families, and everyone working for the best of the public school.

It’s great in some applications, but what do we do for “working class” or “poor” families who lack time and monetary resources?  Where is the charter that caters directly to them?  They exist, you know, but they are performing on par with the local “failing” public school.  Not every charter is successful.

Yet, we can learn a lot from them.  If we would only share rather than compare.

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