Monday, January 30, 2012

"Ten Reasons Why Charter Schools Could Improve Education, but…."

by Jack McKay

Originally, charter schools were to become an extension of public schools.  They would provide educators with an opportunity to test new ideas and approach, free from some of the policies that might inhibit them while maintaining equal educational opportunity for all.

However, many charter schools have become separate institutions, dedicated to competing with public schools, usually siphoning students and resources with promises of Nirvana. 

With that in mind, here are ten reasons why charter schools could improve education, but

  1. Competition: Competition creates better education for children – but actually competition creates a “zero-sum game” where there are winner and losers – and usually it is the students.
  2. Close schools: Schools don’t close. Rather those underfunded public schools must remain open to meet the needs of those who don’t go to the charter schools – thus creating a dual system of schooling in the same community.
  3. Alternative schooling: Actually charter schools create a division of children within the neighborhood – and usually results in the re-segregation of schooling along racial and social and economic levels. 
  4. Bureaucracy: Actually, public schools have long been the primary source of creativity and innovation. 
  5. Student achievement: Actually charter school advocates may be better at “skimming” the best and brightest from the public schools. The unintended consequence is that “success” is recruiting the “good” student.
  6. Teaching and learning: Actually the charter school idea is an organizational or control matter, not an organized to find a better ways to improve teaching and learning.
  7. Learning environment: Actually the environment for learning is healthier in a public school because of the emphasis on equity of opportunities and observing the rights of others.
  8. Urban schooling: Actually charters schools are available for only a selected few in urban communities.  The unintended consequence is using the business model of carefully selecting the students (inputs) along with a prescriptive teaching strategy to ensure students pass the test with a good score (outputs).
  9. Choice: Yes, the charters provide a choice, but the unintended consequence is that some parents use the choice option to separate their children from mixing with other students of different race or culture – thus the re-segregation of children in schools.
If our nation is built on the premise that all children have the right to the opportunity to learn and succeed, we don’t need dual system of schooling. We already know how to provide all students with an opportunity to develop their talents, skills, interests, and aspirations.  We already know about the impact of available health care, pre-school programs, and proper nutrition have on student growth and achievement.  We already know what a good school is – good teachers, a well organized curriculum, adequate supplies and equipment, a safe and clean building, a variety of special services to meet the needs of all students, and supportive parents in their child’s schooling experience.

10. The issue: the charter schools idea is avoiding the real issue before the Legislature – providing easily available services for pre-school children along with adequate and equitable funding to meet the needs of all students.  And finally, there is an old axiom about values.  “Don’t tell me what you value about educating children.  Tell me what you’ve done about educating children and I’ll tell you what you value.” 

(A condensed version of this opinion article appeared in the Seattle Times, January 25, 2012)

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