While charter schools are good on some levels, they also cause a lot of damage to our public education system.
It is difficult to determine if the academic performance level at a charter school is due to the teaching, curriculum, and/or administration because the student body of charter schools is selective. Charter schools recruit students whose parents are committed to and involved in their child’s education simply by having an application process. Moreover, students who have behavior issues are sent back to the public school. Requiring charter schools to take Special Education students, low-income students, etc., does not change the fact that charter schools enroll the students among those groups who are most likely to succeed academically. Children who end up in charter schools are those whose parents make a concerted effort to apply and an interested parent is a huge indicator of academic achievement regardless of socioeconomic status.
In comparing public schools to charter schools or private schools, it is important to acknowledge that Special Education is a huge and mandated part of the budget for public schools. Taking Special Education out of the equation vastly changes the cost per pupil and test results. Evaluating a school without isolating Special Education is simply bad analysis.
Charter schools can hire teachers who are not only non-union, but are also not certified teachers. While it is true that some people are innately gifted teachers, knowledge of a subject area does not make someone an educator. Teaching is a science unto itself and its own discipline of study for a reason. Charter schools are often run by business people rather than educators. A school isn’t a business. A school should be run by experts who have post-graduate degrees in the field of education administration.
Charter schools are experiments in education reform and provide a lab to test new ideas in educational management, but charter schools are not a panacea for our public school system. We need to improve our current public schools, not just cull out the students who have the capacity to work hard in the context of the charter school as well as the support of their parents. Every neighborhood and community should have a good public school without an admission process. We should incentivize seasoned teachers to teach in our most difficult schools through higher pay and extra benefits. Segregating the kids with the skills and the family support needed to perform is not the answer.
A million dollars that might be put into a charter school could be put to better use. Public and private funds should be allocated to commission task forces of trained and experienced educational leaders to create short and long-term plans to reform and improve our current public schools. Such a task forces would use the findings of valid current research in educational reform and conduct additional studies tailored to regions and communities.
Charter schools are not the panacea to improve public schools. In fact, they may push more students, those who do not gain entrance to the school, towards failure. Charter schools should not be the focus of educational reform. They should be one very small piece of the puzzle. The current intense push to create more charter schools is yet another example of lack of foresight and unwillingness to really tackle difficult policy issues. If we do not focus our education reform efforts on our current public schools, we will only increase the inequities in the system. All students deserve great schools. Increasing the volume of charter schools simply creates a new class of privilege in education.