Saturday, August 06, 2011

Why Charter Schools Should Not Be the Enemy

Bear with me; the ideas connected to this post are all jumbly and I think I'm going to go ahead and publish before I'm truly satisfied with it, just so that something is OUT THERE. And I'll revise and tweak it bit by bit.

There seems to be a general consensus that charter schools and traditional public schools are pitted against each other in some kind of siege war; that charters are The Alternative to regular public education. And whether it's a good alternative or a bad alternative, well, that depends on what side of the war you're on, you know?

But the more I reflect on this, the more I am confounded by the wtfery of it all.

From what I understand, charter schools are not under the same guidelines as public schools because they are supposed to be research facilities. Now... as I understand it, in research, you typically have a control group and an experimental group. But people keep insisting on comparing charter schools to public schools. Shouldn't the comparison be WITHIN the charter school? between the students being taught with standard methods (control) and those being taught with methods under study (experimental)?

And when I learned about the scientific method, I was taught that you start out with a hypothesis and you do your research to test it. But when I'm looking at charter schools I haven't been able to find out what hypotheses they're testing.

Reframing charters in this way would be an enormous help to education in general. Public schools could learn from the charters without being threatened by them. Charters wouldn't have to worry about producing results that are better than what public schools can accomplish; finding out that a new technique isn't as good as what's already being used is helpful information!

I'm going to point my accusation at the media: they don't want to lose the "FIGHT TO THE DEATH!" story. Apparently ratings are more important than actual progress.

And I'm gonna stop for now. I think I have more explainin' to do, but it's past medtime, and my brain is tired.

Image thanks to


Mrs. Chili said...

I work in a charter high school, and we don't do research. We're there to offer an alternative to the public school; we are still required to meet all the same standards set by the DOE, but we're able to do that in whatever way we see fit. Ours is an arts-based curriculum; everything we do ties into some form of fine or performance art. Example? Last year, we had an all-school read of Alice in Wonderland. All the English classes read and analyzed the text, then the scriptwriting kids adapted it into a play. The puppetry, stagecraft, and acting classes put the performance together, and the music classes wrote an original score (which the musicians in the school performed). It was an amazing experience to see the thing through from beginning to end, and the students (and the teachers) got a TON out of it because, looking at it through all the different classes, we were able to get to a depth that we could never have achieved in a four week "unit" on the book.

I get paid about 30 grand less than I'm worth. To me, the freedom that working in a charter school affords me is well worth the money they're not able to pay me.

Clix said...

So what sort of regulations do you have to follow (obviously safety, for example) and what can you ignore?

Mrs. Chili said...

What do you mean by "regulation"? We have to follow all the laws, of course - we still have to comply with the state curriculum standards and the seat-hour requirements, and our kids still have to take the standardized tests (we were the ONLY high school within something like a 50 mile radius last year to make AYP). Beyond that, though? How we teach is entirely up to us.

Clix said...

Yes, but that's the case with a regular public school, isn't it? As long as public schools follow the laws and such, how they teach is entirely up to them.

So how are you not just another public school? Do students have to apply to get in? or... ?

does that make sense?

Karen LaBonte said...

I think one issue is that charter schools take funding from the public schools in their district, perhaps on a per student basis? For this reason, and others, some folks suggest that charters are part of a conservative agenda to dissolve public schools.

HappyChyck said...

Mrs. Chili's description more aligns to what I thought charters might be, but I can see what you're saying with it being a kind of school that has more freedom to experiment with teaching methods.

I have mixed feelings about charters--and I am not well informed about how they work--because there are so many people touting them as the solution to everything. Furthermore, I start to wonder about charters that pop up out of nowhere and have loose requirements for teachers. Are they just for profit? Are those students, although in smaller classes, getting a quality education?

My husband recently went to work at a well-established charter school (as support staff), so I have no right to judge when it's paying the bills. On the upside, I should get an better education on what a charter is and can be.

Sarah said...

I've worked in both public schools and charter schools and there are advantages to both. When I was in a charter school, I envied the benefits of the public school teachers. When I taught in a public school, I envied charter schools for being able to pick and choose their students :D

Mr. Ray said...

I don't think it's so much that charters take money from neighborhood schools. There are several issues with charters that allow them to operate in a way that makes them quite different from neighborhood schools.

For one, they are able to accept private funding (which is why corporate types are so pro-charter). Imagine if neighborhood schools got the same kind of money charters did.

Charters - especially the most popular one - are quite exclusive. Yes, they operate a lottery so technically "anyone" can get in, but less educated/motivated parents are not going to go through all the paperwork and redtape to get to that point, which puts their kids at a disadvantage. Also, the largest charter network in NYC counsels out students who can't help test scores (ELLS/SWD). A neighborhood school can't do that.

Too many people drinking the charter school Kool-Aid in my opinion...Read this: Tells you all you need to know.

Clix said...

In fairness, regular public schools are certainly able to accept private funding. It's just that charter schools happen to be the darling of the mega-rich right now (BILL GATES I AM LOOKING RIGHT AT YOU) so they tend to get more of that moolah.

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