Friday, September 15, 2017

Corporate charter schools
are NOT the answer

            Many people confuse the term “charter” schools with “private” schools, ignorant of the fact that charter schools are still public schools, some exist within established public school districts to offer special programs but the recent push we hear most about is to create charter schools run by corporations, (Charter Management Organizations) that use local public school taxes and have become the ‘silver bullet’ to solve the ills of failed schools. Still others confused charter schools with private schools (seeing visions of students in uniforms achieving at high levels) but there is a huge difference: they are businesses that are privately financed, funded by tuitions (not funded by tax dollars), free of the rules governing public institutions, and have very active parents because they are paying large tuitions for their child to attend the private school. The private schools offer an alternative to public schools for parents with lots of money. Enrollment of children in private schools has stayed pretty much the same for the last 50+ years—about 10% of all students. There is a niche served by private schools.

The reason corporate charter schools have become so popular are multi-fold:
            1. Some parents want their children around “similar” children,
            2. The ‘grass is greener over there,’
            3. Elected officials do not trust public school teachers with the freedom they allow charter schools so sell them has the solution to failing schools,
            4. Parents have been hearing for so long that public schools are broken that they have bought into the rhetoric and want an alternative,
            5. Elected officials want to be re-elected, so they offer populist “choices” to their constituents in order to appease them,
            6. The misapplication of business principles evoke visions of profits. Venture capitalists have invested billions in charter management organizations, and charter management organizations have contributed millions to advertise when referenda regarding charter schools appear on ballots and in support of re-election campaigns of public officials,
            7. Large, philanthropic foundations offer funds to corporate charter school initiatives, having also bought into the idea that the business models that made them successful are appropriate for education without evidence to support the contention.

            The basic premise with charter schools is that they can be run without the overwhelming burden of legislation and mandates associated with regular public schools in the state or district in which they were granted their “charters.” Granted, the idea that a school can be freed from many often superfluous restraints is appealing, and to some degree, we may only be able to differentiate between which restraints are superfluous and which aren’t through the establishment of charter schools. But the unanticipated negative impacts of charter schools as they are presented today, if unchecked, may outweigh any benefits gained.

            For instance, the whole idea of charter schools today sends an underlying and subversive message to teachers in regular public schools, which harkens back to the idea that public schools are broken. “You’ve been doing it wrong. We don’t trust you.” Many parents and the media have picked up on this message, which further adds to the distrust, whether justified or not, that many seem today to have for public education and teachers. Too many teachers hear this message and their spirits are dampened. Add to this message all the “reforms” thrown at us from the outside and the message only gets louder and more overwhelming. I have felt the impact personally.

             Despite the fact that most general charter schools (defined as those schools not created for specific purposes, e.g., STEM or performing arts) are prohibited from criterion-based student selection, and lotteries are most often used to determine which students will be accepted, charter schools have no control over who applies and who doesn’t. In one sense that is as it should be, but though it may be largely unconscious—overtly aimed at other issues of safety, comfort, and teacher-student ratios—a parent-driven racial, ethnic, cultural, and certainly economic segregation is silently occurring.

Excerpt from “STOP BLAMING + START TALKING: Developing a Dialogue for Getting Public Education Back on Track” pages 20 - 23.

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