Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Charter School Myth & Challenge

School has started, and a great deal has been said as recently as last week, about 'school choice'. The idea that parents of children attending failing schools should be allowed to attend the schools of their choice has a great deal of resonance with families frustrated with all the maladies of public education. 'School choice' is almost hailed as the magic bullet to fix what ails our public education system. But clearly, it's not...

For instance, what happens when there isn't much 'choice' in what you have to choose from?

This article in 'The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette' tells about an even more frustrating dilemma for parents in Harlem...

"When it came time to pick a Harlem middle school for her daughter, Eula Guest did her research. She inquired with friends, principals and PTA presidents, and talked to students inside art studios and auditoriums. "I got down to the nitty-gritty," she said. "I asked about everything.""

"Eventually, she chose Frederick Douglass Academy II, a middle and high school with a robotics class, a college-readiness program and lots of tutoring for students in need of extra support. The latest grade reported in the city's guidebook said the middle school had earned an "A.""

"It did not say that more recently, it had earned a "C," and the year that Ms. Guest's daughter, Shassee, applied for admission, it was stumbling its way to an "F." Last year, a few months after Shassee entered sixth grade, the Education Department announced it wanted to close the academy's middle school, citing, among other things, low standardized test scores."

""They tell you, be an active partner in your child's education, be active about choosing a school," said Ms. Guest, who owns a video marketing firm with her husband. "You abide by the rules, and then they try to change the rules. I was in shock."" (the rest of the article can be read here).

I am not as harsh a critic of charter schools as I used to be. And although I have visited and read about what appear to be some outstanding charter schools, I also know from the two which my granddaughter has attended that 'school choice' is not always what it's cracked up to be. Teachers who are unable to maintain discipline in their classrooms, who communicate poorly with parents, or incompetent administrators can be found in either public or charter schools.

But I am puzzled by something. Clearly there are successful, creative and innovative charter schools. They attract teachers who are unafraid of demanding schedules and unbelievably heavy workloads. They are able to take students who are unsuccessful in traditional public schools and transform them into scholars.

So why aren't we reinventing our traditional public schools to look more like successful charter schools?

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