Charter Schools: The Catalyst for Change?

Charter Schools: The Catalyst for Change?


Everyone agrees that all children are entitled to a quality education.  However, we do have differences in our opinion of what a quality education is and how it is obtained.   Educating children is a topic adults continue to debate.  We have public, private, and since the 1990s, the rapidly increasing charter schools to choose from.

Usually, public schools, which admit all students in the school’s district, get their money from the local, state, and federal government.  Charter schools, some of which are open enrollment, get tax dollars per student, but must come up with other sources of funding.  These schools may be started by non-profits, parents, or for-profits entities.  One need only look to a few communities across the country to understand the complexities involved in funding charter schools.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

The PA auditor called for a moratorium on charter schools, stating, ‘The Hazleton Area School District, for example, paid about $6,500 to send a student to a charter school in 2008-09, while the Jenkintown School District in Montgomery County paid more than $16,000 per student. For special-education students, the rates are much higher and the disparity much larger.’

As another example, New Orleans has been noted for its’ Recovery School District.  Underperforming schools were taken over by the state after Hurricane Katrina, and now charter schools make up what is called the Recovery School District.  Along with other charter schools, the Recovery School District of New Orleans received a $28 Million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education.  In order to receive the funding the charter schools must raise $5.8 million.

President Obama stated, “it will be the goal of this Administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.”  Quality of education notwithstanding, President Obama’s $10 Billion teacher job saving bill did not include charter schools in the equation.

According to the Washington Post:

Administration officials say their hands are tied because the legislation stipulates that the money go to the school districts. In fact, the law is silent on contracting with outside management organizations and even the Education Department doesn’t have a problem with one school district contracting services with another school district. The education dollars in President Obama’s first stimulus flowed to charters schools based on need, regardless of how the school paid its teachers.

Charter schools are all based on need.  The number of charters have increased in the U.S. because they have successfully and consistently been able to point toward low performing schools as an example for required progressive change.

As a result of making the case for change, charter schools often present their beautifully marketed brand of education as a well developed and implemented plan to reinventing schools.  The bottom line is that charters don’t have the same rules and regulations of public schools.

Although we’d like to think otherwise, much of the charter schools’  “change”  is based on human capital initiatives, like recruiting top college graduates as teachers.  We should recruit great teachers but, what about the current teachers?

Many in the ranks of charter schools are also fierce advocates for change.  Change the teachers, principals, and  governing bodies.  Their message is that our children are underperforming and it is up to the adults to reverse that trend.

Charter schools focus a community’s attention on low performing schools  by implementing tactics similar to political campaigns.  Charters thrive on the community’s reform environment.  They hire advocacy and organizing staff to focus the community’s attention on  changing its’ quality of education.  Within the environment of change, you will find the vehicle to change or swap-out all the mechanics of public schools.

Charter school teachers are not unionized.  Some elected officials thought by supporting choice through charter schools, while not supporting private school vouchers, would enable teacher unions to be satisfied and understand the politics.  That did not happen.  Meanwhile, voucher programs are beginning to be a thing of the past, as is the case in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C.  Now, the teacher’s ever looming dark cloud of charter schools follows them.

Children are our most important asset, and schools prepare them for life.

Many public schools perform at higher rates than charter schools and there are  charter schools that have higher performance percentages than many public schools. Lesson learned? High performance is what we want to attain so, maybe a hybrid of high performing charter and public schools might work well for all.