Thursday, October 31, 2013

Charter Schools Vs. Public Schools

It is the hottest debate regarding the education system in America. With Public School System's across the country, particularly in urban areas, garnering negative press for being woefully inadequate, charter schools have become all the rage. Many parents have gone so far as to put their children on waiting lists to attend these "alternative" schools. The question is. What are charter schools, and are they really better?

Charter schools are independent public schools allowed freedom to be more innovative, while being held accountable for improved student achievement. They foster a partnership between parents, teachers and students to create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are given the freedom to innovate and students are provided the structure they need to learn, with all three held accountable for improved student achievement.  

Nearly one million names are on waiting lists to attend charter schools. This is a dramatic increase from last year.

In the 2011-12 school year, 610,000 names were on the list compared to 920,000 this year, according to a new survey by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Two years ago, the number was about 420,000.

“With public charter school waitlists approaching one million names, it’s heartbreaking for too many families hoping to send their child to a high-quality public charter school,” Nina Rees, NAPCS president and CEO, said in a statement. “Although the number of public charter schools is increasing rapidly this year an additional 275,000 students enrolled in charter schools this survey demonstrates that parental demand continues to outpace what is an already increasing supply.”

Charter schools are continually a point of controversy in education circles. Some critics argue that more federal money should be put into traditional public schools, instead of new charters. Still, proponents say that charter schools serve as a much needed alternative, especially for disadvantaged students.

“Despite research showing that the vast majority of charter schools either fare worse or do not differ significantly from traditional public schools in student growth in reading or math (75 percent and 71 percent, respectively), the public continues to believe that charter schools are a preferred alternative to public schools,” Jerusha O. Conner, assistant professor of education at Villanova University, told TakePart. “The market-based logic of competition coupled with anti-union sentiment, promulgated by popular films like "Won't Back Down" and powerful lobbying groups, has captured public opinion.”

Conner points out a recent study by Stanford University researchers which finds that charter school students in many states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, perform worse than their peers in traditional public schools in both reading and math.

“However, families across the state [Pennsylvania] continue to flock to charter schools,” she said.

One reason for the rush to charter schools could be how traditional public schools are faring amid severe budget cuts. There’s overcrowding in classrooms, a decline in extracurricular programs, such as art and drama, and the elimination of school librarians and guidance counselors. 

 “I think the appeal of charter schools is present because of the amount of corruption and ineffective management found in some of the regular, large and small, public school districts across the nation,” Luis Gabriel Aguilera, a Chicago educator, told TakePart.

He points to teacher cheating scandals in Atlanta and the creation of teacher “rubber rooms” in New York and Chicago a place where teachers who face disciplinary charges sit, knit, and stare at the wall while collecting their full paycheck—as reasons why parents are seeking education alternatives.

Additionally, educators at charter schools are given more freedom to design curriculum, and administrators can hire non-union teachers. Parents also feel like they have more power over their child's education in charter schools. They get to choose a charter school instead of being told by a district to attend a neighorhood school that might not fit their child's needs.

While the Stanford study states that “the vast majority of charter schools in the United States are no better than public schools,” it also points out that some charters schools, are, in fact, improving.

This latest study is an updated version of Stanford’s initial 2009 report that examined charter schools. Then, researchers stated that only 17 percent of charter schools raised student math test scores above their traditional public school counterparts. That number is now 29 percent.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reports that schools that have been operating for six or more years have “an average waiting list of 238 students.” Even schools that haven’t been in existence that long have, on average, 178 students waiting.

Charter schools are likely to continue increasing in popularity as parents tire of traditional public schools and more school districts and private partnerships invest in charters.

“Perhaps both ineffective management and corruption is what is bringing so much appeal to charters by the neighbors who don’t have, as some would say, clout, ‘pull’, etc. and the will to navigate a sometimes hostile, political, corrupt, absurd, and a land-mined terrain,” Aguilera said. “As a parent and educator, I would say that makes the charters rather appealing.”

Education starts at home, it is not only necessary but it is imparative that we start educating them before they enter the school system to give them a head start. Then once they're there we must cultivate relationships with their teachers to encourage open and honest dialogue. Your child should never be just another face in the crowd. Each and every person in your child's school should know who you are. The school setting doesn't matter as much the standard that we set for our children.


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