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The Pros and Cons of Charter Schools

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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 females 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.

In Tennessee, Governor Haslam has lifted the ban on the number of charter schools statewide to allow more charter schools to form. This is a growing trend nationally. 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 found 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. Whom 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.

People can have the best ideas and plans on how to educate their communities, but how public dollars are allocated to budgeted 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 in a charter or public school, 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 writes 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 voters 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.

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About Genma Holmes

  • First, an assertive child should be able to learn anywhere. Motivation is an important ingredient in education. Second, libraries are the real learning laboratories not schools. Once children learn how to read and write- the rest of quality education happens in library research. I would like to see how the charter schools do with educating special education students. Standardized tests are only barometers. Much of education has to do with quality research outside the traditional classroom environment. The children in my generation read books and took home a dozen or so books each month from the library. We wrote many book reports with real critique and literary criticism. Today, too many children sit in front of video games instead of reading quality literature.

  • CarolineSF

    It’s completely inaccurate to say charter schools are accountable. Just watch a district TRY to hold one accountable and see the place combust. The most powerful and wealthy forces in the nation are enamored of charter schools — which at heart are intended to divert vast amounts of public money into private pockets — and those forces will pulverize a school board member who tries to address an issue of charter school corruption or incompetence.

    Also, one big advantage charter schools enjoy is that they are entirely free to pick and choose their students and push out any they don’t want. The charters that aim to serve low-income children of color may not be cherry-picking for academic achievement, but they are fiercely selecting the most compliant and motivated. They never serve the “intentional non-learners” who are such a challenge to public schools. Of course they all claim they don’t cherry-pick (or that they “can’t”), but again, they are unaccountable and not overseen — they answer to no one but their private funders — and of course are entirely free to cherry-pick and push out as they please.

    Public schools that engaged in the same practices would soar. So it’s surprising that overall charter schools do NOT do better than public schools.

  • Joe Nathan

    Actually, hundreds of charters around the country have been closed, despite what Caroline says. But unlike the schools that Caroline promotes, charters are not allowed to have admissions tests. Fortunately legislators and Presidents of both parties have seen the wisdom of giving educators & families the opportunity to create new schools. In some places, the districts are responding with new schools of their own.

  • Herr Profesor Doktor Igor

    @1-Dr. Joe: Any child learns everywhere.

    And my beautiful titles outrank your sordid little titles so I must be right!