What Are Charter Schools? Choices in Education
Jul 3, 2012 Other 1913 Views
Choices in Education
Parents want the best of everything for his or her kids, but when it comes to education, sometimes it is hard to know how to make that happen. Private school? Public school? Charter school? What is the difference and which can provide the most effective chance for our individual children, as well as for the strength of our economy and our country.
Though it appears a given that a sturdy public education system is part of the American way, it wasn't until 1918 that all American kids were required to attend at least elementary school. Prior to that, and despite the fact that Thomas Jefferson had argued that the newly independent nation required an academic system, suggesting that tax dollars be used to fund it, the thought for a public school system wasn't realized for nearly a century.
As public schooling, and of course taxation for education, proliferated, obvious questions arose. What IS the government's role in educating the populace? Who is to receive the education funded by the public? How is quality to be measured and ensured?
Even in its early stages, public schooling was only available to those that could afford it. A sort of hybrid of public and private, schools were open solely to landowners who could pay for their kids to attend. Considered public faculties because they were government run, not religious establishments, they still excluded those that were too poor.
Private school applies to anything from a personal instructor employed to teach youngsters in their house, to a variety of institutions with their own curriculums. The common thread is that parents opt for the school, pay tuition, and abide by its rules and regulations. Often those rules include school uniforms and compliance to other codes of conduct. Students may be expelled for violations.
Since problems of social inequality arise with Private schools and education of only the rich, a solution of vouchers, paid by the government to assist poorer families to pay private tuition, has been offered. Some may find it surprising that some of the concepts debated today have extremely early foundations. School choice, or the concept of vouchers to assist in obtaining private school attendance, was introduced as early as 1778, by Adam Smith, who proposed that the government give parents money to get teachers for their kids, as a result of parents are in the most effective position to judge their own children's needs. In 1798, Thomas Paine agreed with Smith, advocating money for poor families to educate their kids. These founders might not have known it, but they were the genesis of the voucher movement.
But, there are a number of objections to the voucher program. The primary complaint is the very fact that several private schools are also religious establishments, and by an interpretation of the separation of church and state, government vouchers to attend those religious schools would be tantamount to the government funding that faith. As early as 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant promised that "Encourage free schools and resolve that not one dollar of the cash appropriated to their support shall be appropriated to the support of any sectarian school; that neither the state or nation, not both combined, shall support institutions of learning other than those sufficient to afford to each child within the land the chance of a good common-school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan, or atheistic dogma." In 1970 & 1971, respectively, vouchers were both approved and ruled by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutional if used for religious schools. Several states currently have voucher programs, whereas as early as 2000, voters in California and Michigan rejected voucher initiatives at the polls. Mired in controversy, vouchers are clearly not THE answer parents are trying for.
While several individuals think that Charters are Private schools, they are, after all Public Schools. Throughout the 70's, innovative district schools were founded in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and St. Paul. These faculties rejected the notion that "one size fits all" and sought to form distinctive schools that give choices to parents and students. In the Nineteen Eighties, Minnesota allowed public funds and looser administrative requirements for brand new schools, laying groundwork for the first official Charter School legislation in 1991.
"Charter Schools are distinct legal entities. They're public schools that are financed by public funds but are governed by their own specific charter and not by the regular public school rules. State Legislatures enact charter school enabling legislation and determine the framework for charter approval. New schools may be created or converted from existing public schools under the direction of educators, parents, community members or private concerns."
Charter schools are, thus, not an indictment on public schools, but really a natural outgrowth of the public school system. It's not a question of charter school vs. public school - they are two sides of the same coin. Charter schools supply parents options and choice among the framework of the system. They're public schools that operate under the same testing requirements, are funded publicly, and have open and equal, tuition-free enrollment, just like a neighborhood public school.
The distinction is that every charter school has its own mission, or "charter" within the community it serves. This charter, approved by the government, is custom fit to fulfill the requirements of a specific student population or offer a unique academic philosophy, approach, or curriculum not obtainable elsewhere. So, for a child who is not succeeding in the classroom because she or he has an unconventional learning style, there is likely a charter school option. Or alternately, a child that is succeeding, but is not being challenged enough might find a charter school better suits her needs. These are some of the charter school benefits - choice, customization, parent involvement, smaller class sizes, innovation, accountability based on performance and market forces. Many parents who might have had a bad experience with an educator at a public school openly embrace the charter school's ability to hire and fire without Union ramifications and District regulations, but based on performance alone. However, the flip side of that coin ends up in insecurity for teachers, potential for favoritism, and with loose administrative requirements to encourage innovation, it can sometimes mean lack of educational background informing decision making. Other criticisms include waiting lists that limit the claim of "choice" to attend, the push towards innovation leads instead to creation of laboratories for curriculum that risks kids in its testing, and lack of oversight for quality - relying instead on market forces to determine quality, i.e. 'if the school is not great, they won't be able to maintain attendance.' Finally, the diversion of public funds from public schools has many teachers unions angry as the charter movement gains momentum. The funds determined for a child move with that child to their charter. If, however, the child decides part way through the year, to return to public school, the funds do not travel back. The public school must carry the burden of the student.
Charter School Information
Many communities invested in the well-being of its children, has, not-surprisingly, latched on enthusiastically to the charter movement. Schools appear to be springing up on every corner sometimes. What once was few and far between, can now be an overwhelming choice. How do parents even begin to search out information? Especially when there is no centralized source for information. That is what Charter School Authority hopes to offer - ONE place to get your charter school questions answered. For parents, they provide Utah charter school names, locations, easy access to school websites, and answers to commonly asked charter school definitions and queries.
For charter schools and educators, they supply charter school job listings, current information and news, and a great place for the general public to find out about your school.
Everyone curious about charter schools will find something of interest in the Charter School Authority blog, which will offer updated information about and of interest to the charter school community.
Charter School Authority's purpose is to partner with parents and educators by providing a comprehensive informational site to help negotiate your educational options.