Some Thoughts on Charter Schools

Let me  get something straight here among  my high school friends, Tweeps, and  my many other cyber-acquiaintances, I am NOT against charter schools. I think what is being missed in the conversation surrounding  “Waiting for Superman” is what a charter school really is.

Quite simply, the definition of a charter school is a publicly funded school that provides for an experimental learning environment; typically a charter school is exempt from certain state and/or local educational guidelines in the interest of flexibility and autonomy.

That’s it. The original charter schools were not designed with intent to be  managed by commercial organizations. However, private management of public schools seems to become something of the normal expectation of what charter school is.

Let me get another thing straight,  I am NOT against privately managed public schools. That is, as long as there is a clear value-add provided by the managing organization. If taxpayers are on the hook for a new school (funding both its operation, AND a corporate profit margin) then the school & charter management company should be able provide a strong value-propositon. If not, why bother with more of the same, but at  ahigher price?

The prevailing wind in education reform seems to be more charter schools (again not necessarily a bad thing). However, for the likes of Oprah, Ed Secretary Duncan, Newt Gingrich, and Al Sharpton to keep chanting the mantra “…with more charter schools.” is not going to help with ed reform if there is not consideration given to what the charter schools are offering a community.

We (parents, teachers, administrators, politicians) need to start thinking in terms of “more quality learning” That includes early childhood development, tutoring and mentoring, and  yes, more “good” schools (regardless of whom they are managed by).

When districts or states are weighing whether to outsource services to a commercial organization, it it important to consider what value an can organization provide the community? One question might be, does the commercial entity offer highly specialized services that are not readily available among the educators and administrators currently serving the community? If so, then it may be justifiable to outsource educational services to an outside organization.

Another question: does the school provide a truly innovative approach to learning? In my area there was a decision to build a charter school that will have an aviation theme. This is true innovation because it offers a chance for learners to tap into specific interests throughout their academic careers. In addition to college-prepatory coursworks there would be opportunities for focused vocational training for of number of careers (airline pilots, engineers, military…). Quite frankly, this idea would never would have gotten off the ground (pun is intended) in a traditional school district.

If an an organization can justify that it can offer specialized services, or an innovative curriculum then perhaps outsourcing to a commercial organization might indeed be the best option for a school district. If such case cannot be made, then its much harder to justify the added expense of outsourcing to an outside company. In that scenario, a better use of funds might be to restore offerings that might have been previously cut (art,  music,  pedagogical resources…) from failing schools.

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