Charter Schools: Good, Bad and Ugly

An article by: Melissa Tomlinson 

The Good

I have lived with a charter school in my home town for at least ten years now. In fact, I even applied to teach there as soon as I got my certificate of eligibility for Teacher of Students with Disabilities. The school caters to students that are interested in pursuing a life in the performing arts. (Needless to say, I did not get hired. I can’t act, dance, or sing!) This school has been a part of our community for a while and has developed a wonderful relationship with the area high school. It has been successful in sending students all over the country for college, including Julliard.

This school is a perfect example of the original purpose of charter schools. It is meeting a need within a community. In all these years, I have not heard of any complaints about the school, the administration, or the teachers. To have more schools like this, that would meet a specific need of some of the community’s students, would be ideal in our diverse country. That was why many laws were passed to help support the infusion of charter schools into our communities, our home towns.

The Bad

Unfortunately, that is not what happened. In No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was enacted at the hands of the Bush administration and schools jumped to the task to prove that they were doing everything possible to make sure none of their students were left behind. Accountability became the key word as standardized testing became the tool used to measure the academic worth of all students and subsequently all schools. It became evident that some children were not performing as well as their peers as these norm referenced tests with a built-in failure percentage golden rule of measurement instead of one piece of data used to paint the bigger picture. Parents were shown data that distinctly told them that their public school was failing to properly educate their children and cries ensued, calling for alternatives.

These cries were answered in the form of school choice. Our public markets is designed to promote choice and healthy competition. Where there is a need, people jump at the chance to fill that need and, of course, make a profit for themselves in the meantime. Parents were sold this wonderful thing called school choice to give their child more possibilities, more options. Who doesn’t want more for their child?

Options became available like magnet schools that originally started in the 1970’s as a tool for desegregation and gained popularity again between 1997 and 2005.  Magnet schools have since declined in their fulfillment of their original purpose.  A study done in Nashville proved that the academic selective magnet schools became increasingly racially isolated white schools, while the non-academic selective magnet schools became increasingly racially isolated black schools.

Soon new charter schools were flying in to areas, swooping in to save the day. Charter schools use marketing techniques to falsely create demand within communities and implant the idea that a charter school may be a better option for the children. They offer parents a solution to the misrepresented fact that their child was not performing as well in school as others. These charters offer open enrollment, lottery systems and wait lists that gave the promise of hope to all. What they actually deliver is limited openings, draining of funds from the public school budgets and false claims that students perform better at charter schools. Charter schools actually leave many students behind by not catering to all demographic groups, and through selective attrition of lower performing students. It has been recently stated that the data shows school choice and charter schools actually increase the threat of resegregation in our schools. Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools, Success Academy, now serves a proportionally higher amount of privileged students than of other demographics.

Charter schools are no longer the community provision to filling the gaps in specialization of different types of curricular opportunities, such as performing arts. Instead, charter schools have been taking over by for-profit enterprises or non-profit corporations with a board of directors. Decisions made by these entities are often in the best interest of the corporation or non-profits. These boards have power to run the school as they best see fit, including managing personnel that often leads to a higher turnover rate of administration and teachers. Some public charter schools work their way around the laws that govern schools by subcontracting management services to for-profit companies. They sit on the fence and use their private and public titles to circumvent laws whenever necessary.

The upheaval of our public school systems is coming at a great cost to our children as they are exposed to re-segregation of our schools, higher staff attrition rates, and provided less opportunities due to the drain of funding caused by charter schools. Tuition is given to charter schools on a per-student basis, but the charter schools are free to send students back to the public school district without a return of any portion of the funds. Charter schools often tap into the state and federal grants that are available. All of this leaves the public schools having a loss of resources available while operating with decreasing budgets.

The Ugly

By not having to exactly follow all of the same laws and regulations that public schools follow, a door is left wide open for mistreatment of students at the hands of the charter school systems. At the hands of these charter schools, children have suffered such abuses as being thrown in padded cells, forced to wear signs that say “CRETIN”, made to earn their desks while sitting on bare floors, and fallen victims of public shaming as they are told to wear clothing backwards and excluded from lunch tables. Documentation of students being slammed into walls, garbage cans placed on heads, and made to bark like a dog at the hands of KIPP administrators have all surfaced.

Other charter schools, such as Rocketship, practice a passive form of abuse by having students sit in a cubicle in from of a computer monitor for hours, all in the name of education. Master Charter Schools, known for it’s “no excuses” policies trains staff in the art of discipling children instead of in the science of educating them.

As the decision makers and corporate buddies decided that they wanted to find a way to promote charter schools, Charter School Week was born. Ironically, the dates set occur the exact same time as teacher appreciation week. In the meantime, public schools are left holding the bag, screaming, “Where is our week? When do we honor public schools?”

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