In a recent conversation with an elected official who represents a demographic that has a high poverty rate and large percentage of “at risk” students and was seen photo-oping with an education reform candidate seeking re-election, we posed the following question. “Why would you support their agenda? They are destroying our public school system” The response was, “they helped us out. We got the charter school. How else are these kids gonna get a quality education?”
This conversation started a process of trying to figure out what is it, exactly, that makes a school a failing school, and how does a charter school overcome that? Let’s start with the pros and cons of charter schools to distinguish how a charter school differs from a public. There are more than listed here, but these are the items at the top of each list.
- Choice: The existence of a charter school gives parents who live in a failing school district the option of sending their child to a different school.
- Innovation: It is believed that without the restrictions of local bureaucracy and stifling teacher unions, charter schools are more open to finding innovative methods of teaching.
- Competition: Based of business theory, when a charter school performs well, it will draw students. When the public system begins to lose students, it will be forced to find ways to compete with the charter; therefore, the quality of education increases for everyone.
- Most charter schools, while owned by local entities, are often run by “for profit” corporations. The bottom line is the focus. On average, charter schools spend about 20% less of their operating budget in the classroom than local school systems.
- Transparency: Rather a lack of transparency. While charter schools have been ruled “public” because they operate on public funds and are open to public enrollment, they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act; therefore, there is no method of ensuring that the public’s tax money is being used appropriately.
- Control and Accountability: Because of the way charter schools are approved, the local school district has no control over them. In addition, they aren’t accountable to local districts and aren’t held to the same accountability laws as public schools.
So, what is it that makes a school a failing school? How does a school get to that point? Is it the age of the building? We think, not. There are brand new charter schools and charter schools that run out of abandoned old grocery stores.
Is it the quality of the teachers in the schools? We think, not. Surveys have shown that a very small percentage of teachers actually live in the school zone they teach in. In fact, in a six block radius of my home, there are 8 teachers. Three teach at an A school, one at a C school, and the rest teach at D and F schools. All of them, great teachers.
Is it the bureaucracy of the public school system? Charter schools seem to think that, and also that they can do better. The fact is…every district runs a multitude of schools ranging from A to F. If it were the management, this wouldn’t be so.
Here is what we think. None of the things listed above have anything to do with the performance of a school. It has everything to do with poverty level and family life of the community it draws from. Research has proven that the things that contribute most to a successful school are:
- A community that values education.
- Families who nurture children throughout their academic endeavors.
- Teacher who are able to inspire children to excel.
- Administrators who create a positive, safe and productive learning environment.
Go into any failing school. I don’t care where it is. You will find that two, or more, of these items are absent. Now, here is what we propose. It would be a simple thing to do. Take two elementary schools, an A school and an F school, with similar numbers in enrollment and faculty size. Swap them. That’s right. Swap the teachers, or swap the students. It doesn’t matter. Swap them for one whole school year.
Prove, once and for all, what it is that makes a school a “failing school.” We don’t think anyone will be surprised by the result, but the education reformers and charter school supporters will not accept it.