Genma Speaks

Entrepreneur/ Writer/ Radio-Host

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Charter Schools

Most large family gatherings have the normal family disagreements. But if you ever want to ruin a “good argument” during the holidays, just mention charter schools around the educators in my family. At the dinner table sit female educators who are teachers, principals, and college professors who will send the turkey and dressing running for cover at the very mention of charter schools. The topic of charter schools is hotly disputed between my mother and my aunts who believe “the devil is in the details”. Asking these fervently experienced Titans of education to explain why they love or loath the idea of charter schools minus the passion has left me, occasionally, looking for the turkey and dressing’s hiding place.

As Governor Haslam has lifted the ban on the number of charter schools statewide, we will see more charter schools forming. The reasons for allowing more charter schools are as numerous as the stars above but it is important to review some of the pros and cons of charter schools. *

Pro: Charter schools provide families with public school choice options. Parents will have the ability to choose the school best suited for their child.
Con: Charter schools, due to their small size and limited numbers, will provide only some families with public school choice options, thereby raising issues of fairness and equity.

Pro: Charter schools can act as laboratories of reform, identifying successful practices that could be replicated by traditional district public schools. Also, by waiving regulations in a limited number of schools, the most prohibitive policies can be identified and eliminated for all schools.
Con: Successful reform models such as New American Schools and Core Knowledge have already been identified. Why not attempt these reforms in existing schools? If rules and regulations are so burdensome, they should be waived for all public schools.

Pro: Through school choice, competition within the public school system is created, pressuring school districts to reassess their educational practices.
Con: Charter schools have an unfair advantage when competing against district public schools since they tend to be smaller and free from regulations. Charter schools have access to federal funds and other revenue sources.

Pro: Charters will lead to overall systemic reform through the pressure and competition of the choice mechanism.
Con: Charters are too limited in scope to adequately pressure the entire public school system.

Pro: Charter schools, unlike traditional public schools are held accountable. If charters do not perform, they are not renewed.
Con: Charters are not accountable as they are freed from rules and regulations intended to ensure quality in public education.

The pros and cons listed above should be studied and weighed very seriously. What works in one community may not work in another. What I have founded more fascinating than debating the pros and cons of charter schools is what is often overlooked; the role state legislators play with the expansion of charter schools. The majority of charter school arguments take place in legislative sessions (not at family dinner tables) since the programs that enable choice in public education are legislative enactments. Who you vote for (or don’t) determines what educational programs are received in your community. Too often, the communities that need the most educational options have residents who are least likely to vote.

One can have the best ideas and plans on how to educate your communities but how public dollars are allocated is determined by an elected official not the school and the families that make up that school. In order to help change the crisis in education, families must become more informed of educational choices and involved in school district issues. Parents must also be engaged politically by voting for individuals that have their family’s best interest at stake.

A child’s education, whether charter or public, is dependent on the family foundation, the skills of the teachers he or she encounters daily, the leadership of the principals, the effectiveness of the school district, community engagement and who write the laws in state legislatures. In order to have more positive outcomes surrounding the education of children, parents must do their homework on issues and make sure they are investing in their child’s future by voting in every election.

In 2012, the survival of public education will be determined by who is elected to the highest office in the land. But locals must give as much priority to state and county elections. They are equally important especially when it comes to education.

*Data compiled from NCSL Issues and Research.

1 comment

Lyn H said...

Hey Genma. Finally catching up on some blog reading today. And saw the Charter School article in the Tennessean. Good Pro-Con list here. I feel the greatest pro that a charter school can contribute to a school system is the opportunity to really try different methodologies that help children learn, and really target struggling children. Brilliant comment to suggest if Charter Schools are discovering methods that work, why are we not bringing those methods into the regular public school?

Where things go slippery is when the focus is to de-couple from public school and create a privatized system with public dollars. As a public school parent active in PTO, we are trying every day to hold our neighborhood school together. To demand a higher standard and keep families from leaving for magnet, private or charter. Nashville is on the road to creating a sifted society where all that is left in public schools are the children of indigent homes or homes where parents hold zero value for education.

Economic school segregation is on its way. Alive and well. Especially where transportation is involved. And it seems many charters do not or will not provide transportation. A good education should be for every child. But you have to get them to school.

Imagine how great our public schools would be if our great leaders were focusing their resources there. Working to lift regulations that Charter Schools are trying to avoid so the public schools can function again and take a more "charter" approach to autonomous education. Every school has different needs based on the needs of the population. Why does it take creating a whole new system along side the current one? Is society that bad at cooperating? Is this now about profiting on kids or educating them? Explain the pro and con there. We should talk soon.

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