I thought that after lasts nights BoE meeting, I would repost something I published earlier. I do have a few more comments to make however. While K12 may not be the ideal contractor for virtual curriculum, I am glad we, as a district are having a conversation about charters. In this day & age, a virtual charter school fits in very nicely with the technological world we live in; it also fits in nicely with parental choice. After all is said and done, doesn’t it really come down to choice? Why are entrenched educational bureaucracies so opposed to parental choice?
Somewhere along the line, a parents right to choose was either surrendered or usurped, I’m not sure which, a little of both no doubt. Since 1965, with the passage of ESEA, NCLB is the current mutation of ESEA, the federal government alone has spent somewhere between $500-700 billion on education in the U.S. That’s just the federal layout of taxpayer money. After spending all that money, educational advancement in the U.S. has moved incrementally at best, when compared to other industrialized democracies. However, there the comparisons must stop, we in the U.S. have a history, and a culture that respects freedom from government, and which values the choice of its citizens.
What follows is a repost of an earlier blog.
First, I think we need a definition of “charter School”, at least that way we have the same frame of reference. According the N.E.A., “charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school’s charter.” (emphasis added)
A little background on charter schools might also be in order. There seems to be a lot of myths, or, misconceptions about charter schools out among the general population, even within education circles, and within community organizations and local political arenas, myths can still be found. So, let’s start with a charter school timeline.
1988 – University of Mass. Amherst Prof. Ray Budde originates the idea of “charter schools”, but A.F.T. President Albert Shanker coined the terms “charter school” and “school of choice”.
1991 – Minnesota becomes the first State to pass legislation formalizing a new system of “chartering” new schools. The bill was introduced by a group of Democratic State Senators and Representatives. The A.F.T. and President Shanker continued its support, however, other teacher unions began to oppose the concept.
1992 – California passes charter school legislation.
1992 – The City Academy becomes the first school to open, in St. Paul Minnesota.
1995 – State legislators across the country begin to question how charter schools can be opened in their respective states.
1996 – While the N.E.A. was never officially warm to the idea of charter schools, now the A.F.T. withdraws its support.
1997 – Republicans in Virginia begin an effort to expand the charter school option.
1997 – The Philadelphia Public School System is targeted for takeover due to funding levels compared to neighboring districts. The takeover legislation was crafted by democratic state legislators, who threatened to turn most, if not all of the Philadelphia school system over to a charter school company, Edison Learning.
2001 – The Ohio Federation of Teachers, along with several school administrator groups file suit to strike down Ohio’s charter school provisions. This is based on the assumption that charter schools are not “common schools” as defined by the Ohio Constitution, and therefore cannot receive public funds.
2003 – Democratic state representatives in Washington State cancel a vote on a bill that would expand Washington’s charter schools, claiming charter schools siphon off state funding .
2008 – Barack Obama elected president. He spent his early career as a champion for charter schools in Chicago.
2009 – Former head of CPS, Arne Duncan appointed Sec. of Education, a vocal supporter of charter schools.
2001 – Democratic lawmakers in Indiana walk out over legislation that would alter the way charter schools are funded and evaluated.
As you can see from the timeline, the charter school issue started out as a reasonably non-partisan affair. Initially, charter schools were championed by most democrats. However, as time went on, and as more republicans joined in support of charter school initiatives, the issue became politicized. With the A.F.T. withdrawing their support of charter schools, I think most democrats changed their opinion and decided to oppose charter schools because the big teacher unions were against them, and they didn’t want to dare alienate big labor, and lose big labor campaign contributions. I think if the issue had stayed non-partisan, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. After all, the issue should be; how do we best educate our kids, not, how do I win my next election.
Now, on to some common charter school myths. I think a lot of people, teachers, administrators, community members, parents, BoE members, just misunderstand charter schools. As an example:
Myth 1. Charter schools are private schools. They are not, they fall under the same heading as public schools, because they are public schools.
Myth 2. Charter schools pick the “cream of the crop.” Unlike exclusive private schools, charter public schools do not recruit and select “the best” students. When enrollment requests exceed the number of seats, charter schools are required by law to hold a public lottery to determine who will attend. Because they are free and open to all, charter public schools do not engage in selective admissions policies.
California charter schools serve a large number of students traditionally considered to be low-achieving or otherwise “at-risk,” educating some of the state’s most underserved students, allowing them to achieve success where the conventional system failed to do so.
Myth 3. Charter schools do not provide special ed services. Like all public schools, charter schools understand their responsibility to serve all students, and charter schools are committed to serving students with exceptional needs. In fact, because charter schools are designed to have more flexibility than traditional public schools, they are uniquely situated to provide innovative, high-quality educational services to students with unique learning needs.
Myth 4. Charter schools take money away from conventional schools. False, because, when charter public schools are funded, there is no overall loss of public school money because charter schools are public schools.
Myth 5. Charter schools are not help accountable for performance. Again, false. Charter schools, unlike traditional public schools, are academically accountable on two counts. They are held accountable by their authorizer (usually the local school district) and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter petition, they must define their academic goals In order to be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals. Families make the choice to enroll their children in charter schools, and families can remove them if they are dissatisfied with the school. A charter school that neglects its academic duties will soon find that its enrollment has dwindled, as well as its budget accordingly, and major changes may be necessary for the school to remain open.
Myth 6. Charter schools operate without oversight. Charter schools must operate within the provisions of state and federal law. They must abide by health, safety and civil rights laws, and cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex or national origin. Charter governance bodies are subject to various business regulations, such as ethical financial practices, and public body rules, such as open meeting laws. Charter schools also have oversight from their authorizers (usually the local school district, county office of education or State Board of Education). In fact, the very name charter refers to the “contract” that the school enters into with their authorizer. Authorizers review financial reports, have the authority to conduct audits, determine if the school is to be renewed at the end of the charter’s term (usually every five years) and can revoke a charter for certain reasons within charter law if the school is not meeting the terms of its charter.
Myth 7. Charter school students do not perform any better than there public school counterparts. A recent report shows that KIPP program students outperform their public school peers on reading and math tests. In places like Washington, D.C., charter school students – who now make up more than one-third of the city’s total public school enrollment and who mostly come from low-income backgrounds – are closing the educational gap vis-a-vis the national average on standardized tests and score significantly higher than their traditional public school counterparts on reading and math.
The National Bureau of Economic Research even found that the presence of charter schools as alternative competition also increased the performance of traditional public schools on statewide standardized tests.
As you can probably ascertain, I am in favor of charter schools. Not for charter schools sake, but, for the sake of trying to improve the educational system. In my opinion, people, community leaders, politicians, even parents have become “afraid to fail”. So, people opt to do nothing. Doing nothing is easier than failing, right? I disagree. WE must try, we have no other alternative. If we try something new, and it doesn’t work, then we learn from that and we move on.
In a strange way, I am actually encouraged and proud of our educational system. Sound odd? Here’s why I feel that way. Ever since A Nation At Risk was published, in 1982 I believe, people have been complaining about the U.S. educational system. However, after the end of World War II, and especially since the collapse of the Cold War, governments had more money at their disposal. Whose system do countries continue to emulate? Ours! These countries adopted democracy, a similar economy, a similar educational system, similar laws, etc, the list is endless. My point is, even though the U.S. is somewhere in the middle of the pack when ranking education, I propose that it’s not that we have gotten worse, other countries, with the use of freed up capital, were to able to catch up, and, yes, even pass us. Instead of lamenting our decline, we should applaud those that continue to look toward the U.S. as an example of what they too can become.
However, we cannot rest on our laurels, we must continually strive to improve to educational experience of our children. We are a nation of innovators, and we will innovate, and improve upon the best education system, the very system that others have emulated, and adapted to fit their needs. After all, which country is the country of choice the world over for higher education? There must be a reason they send their best and brightest, their future leaders here? We need to learn from ourselves, from our success.
I am including several pertinent links for you to peruse also.
Sources: The Center for Education Reform
The Gorman Learning Center
California Charter Schools Association
National Charter School Resource Center
The Rand Corp. Are Charter Schools Making a Difference? A Study of Student Outcomes in Eight States.
Mathematica Policy Research Charter Schools, Are They Effective?
The National Education Association