Read This Before Enrolling Your Child In A Charter School

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Well, another charter school is opening in Trenton, NJ. I am not surprised because charters are popping up everywhere. This one, however, is different in that it is run by a Utah based company, which evidentially purchases property, and plants schools all over the nation. Apparently, opening and running a school is big business and there are no shortage of people, companies and organizations who want to cash in.

Let me say from the onset that I do not have a problem with charter schools, per se. It is clear that some of them are helping students and some parents swear by them. However, I whole heartedly reject the notion that charters schools are hands down better than public schools. In fact, as Barghaus and Boe (2011) point out, when compared to traditional public schools charter schools have generally “not improved student achievement” (57). In cases where charters do outperform public schools the differences can largely be attributed to the social class of the students (Ravitch, 2010) or to the fact that some charter schools have longer school days/years and are not politically or economically hogtied like public schools.

But let us step back for a minute and define just what we mean when we talk about a “charter school”. Generally speaking, a charter school is an independently owned and operated school that uses public funds. Look at it this way, a business, organization or group of individuals decides that they can do a better job educating children. They then complete and submit the necessary paperwork to the Department of Education, and after gaining approval and securing a certificate of occupancy, set up shop and open their doors. In Trenton, NJ this means they will get roughly $18,504 for per student. In the end it becomes a numbers game – the more students they can secure the more money they will make.

Some would argue that the charter school movement in the United States is a breath of fresh air, and that it is good to see educators go to such great lengths to make sure students do well in the classroom. Others have a problem with charters because take money from public schools and will quickly jettison any student who causes too much trouble or is a behavior problem. Of course on the surface getting rid of an unruly student is a good thing because such a student can adversely affect the school climate and have a negative impact on student learning. The only problem is that charter schools keep the money even after they send a child back. That’s like you sending a product back Amazon and having them refuse to give you your money back. It’s just plain unfair and unreasonable for charters to keep the money after they give a child the boot, and in the end public schools suffer because they have to find the money educate the returning student.

A child who reenters the public school will face a host of challenges. Their school counselors may have difficulty securing transcripts from their previous school, which makes it hard to determine which classes a student should take. Another problem is that some charter schools have trimesters while some schools have semesters. Thus, it is sometimes difficult for school counselors to determine how many actual credits a student has.

It is also important to note that a significant number of charter schools close every year. Sometimes they will close their doors because student performance is too low, while other times the state will shut them down after financial improprieties are discovered. Regardless, it can be very difficult to get a transcript or up to date records when a charter school goes belly up. As a result, the student will return with no record of his previous coursework and may end up losing a year because school counselors aren’t exactly sure where to put him.

It is not uncommon for teachers who work at charter schools to quit after a short period of time in part because they are under great pressure to make sure their students perform well on standardized tests. I have heard stories about charter school teachers who want to help students, but eventually get tired of the constant scrutiny and oversight of administrators. Some decide that life is too short to and throw in the towel while others decidedly move on to another less stressful occupation.

Returning to the issue of student achievement, there are some charter school administrators who are quick to point out that 100% of their students go onto to college. Sounds impressive right? The only problem is that some students who decide that college is not for them may be summarily discharged from the school. Likewise, a student who is not making the grade may be dismissed for “not taking his studies seriously” or because he is not a “good fit” for the school. In sum, school administrators may seek to get rid of the “dead wood” or remove students who are not academically doing well. By contrast, public schools often keep such students and do the best they can to provide the individuals with a through, efficient and complete education. They can’t just arbitrarily kick a child out of school without providing him his due process.

As stated earlier, my goal here is not to paint all charters with a broad brush or dismiss all of their achievements. I would argue that no two charter schools are the same, thus it is a mistake to lump them all together. My point here is that standardized test results would seem to indicate that academically charter schools are no better or worse than public schools (Berman, 1998). Hence, I would contend that it is a mistake for parents to enroll their children in the latest neighborhood charter school without first considering what the public schools have to offer.

References

Barghaus, K. M., & Boe, E. E. (2011). From policy to practice: Implementation of the legislative objectives of charter schools. American Journal of Education, 118(1), 57-86.

Ravitch, D. (2010) The Death and Life of the Great America School System, How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. Basic Books: New York

Study of Charter schools: Second-Year Report, by Paul Berman, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Dept. of Education, Washington, D.C, 1998. Hathi Trust. http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.31951d01944835x;view=1up;seq=3.

 

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2 responses to “Read This Before Enrolling Your Child In A Charter School

  1. Mr. Freeman,
    While I do agree that charter schools should be scrutinized, some of the information in your article is misinformed.
    The version of charter school operations that is presented in your article grossly oversimplies the intricacies of school law, fincance, and politics that surrounds this issue.
    I agree that parents should investigate the charter school they are choosing to ensure that they agree with the educational and disicpline philosophy that the school is using. It is often over looked that each charter school has a particular view on education methodolgy and implementation. Charter schools are in the end a choice school.
    If you would like to discuss in more depth the issue I would be happy to communicate with you further.
    Sincerely,
    Trevin
    PS the school pictured is based out of Minnesota not Utah.

    • Thanks for responding, Trevin! I simply didn’t have time to go into school law, finance or politics in my blog. I was really trying to touch on what I have seen working in an urban school for 20 years. In Trenton charters open and close at the drop of the hat often leaving kids in peril. We joking say that charters get their money for the year on October 15th and then begin to send the kids back on October 16th.

      I agree with you that charters have different philosophies and missions. I also think they attract choosers – parents who have the social capital and know how to pull their kids out of public schools. My issue is that doing so can sometimes be a big mistake and if you go by the data charters are no better or worse than public.

      I am not sure if you are referring to the photo in the header but I took that photo in Trenton, NJ with my iPhone about two weeks ago.

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