Charter Mentality

Recently I was part of social occasion attended educated, professional people. At one point the conversation turned to K-12 education and the merits of certain private schools. The conversation progressed to charter schools and how they were far superior to public schools.

It was pointed out that in the State of Delaware, everyone was eligible for a lottery and if selected could attend a charter school. In other words this was a fair system where all students had the same chance. Hmmm.

The conversation proceeded along the track of “ while that sounds great for those students in the Charter Schools, what about those who did win the lottery or whose parents didn’t even try to gain entry?”

Next someone suggested that failing students came from people who engaged in sex, drugs, and alcohol, and apparently did not form stable families, were at fault (implying that those who were better students came from parents who married and had stable home relationships).

The next thought, “why not offer everyone “vouchers” and let the individual choose which school to attend?”

In the Philadelphia to Wilmington, Delaware area, the public school systems are under attack, and for good reasons. Many schools are simply not safe. Others offer little discipline and employ too many teachers who are not up to the task of educating the student body they find before them. Where this problem is most intense lies in areas marked by poverty and mostly African-American students. Graduation rates are abysmal and standardized test scores are well below targets.

Something is very wrong to be sure.  Charter Schools are the current answer.  (But for whom?)

Some claim Charter Schools are the magic bullet. They point to examples where nearly all poor African-American student populations have done measurably better than surrounding public schools. If there, why not every where?

The race to Charter Schools and the use of vouchers, are completely understandable when the issues is “about my child”. The public schools offer little or no hope, so why not try Charters and finance them with vouchers?

Answers are complicated but begin to become  “what will happen to those is left behind?”   What will happen to those students whose parents do not apply for a Charter School or simple cannot cope with an out of neighborhood school?

Add to this, how can we expect our cities to afford the “rump public schools” and also fund charter schools?

And why should we expect that charter schools, should they ever educate the majority of area students, not be plagued by unions and new work rules?

Why should we not expect charter school teachers to demand more pay and benefits?

Why should we not expect there will be charter schools where parents will not be involved and these schools will  underperform those where parent are highly involved.

In short, why should we expect charter schools will not eventually follow the behavior of the neighborhoods they serve?

Fixing public education is a social experiment in motion. I know of no single silver bullet. Clearly current teachers’ unions work rules prohibit some degree of innovations. Parental demands just as frequently tie school administrators hands as well. And, for sure, when the streets and neighborhoods are not safe, we should not expect the schools to be different.

Intuitively it seems clear to me that everyone cannot afford to move to safer, better schools in the suburbs, nor can everyone move to a higher performing charter school nearby.

Far too many public students, however, do move on…    to welfare rolls or to prison. We can’t afford either alternative. We must look harder.

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