As I’ve written recently, everything is now political. Or let me be more clear – many seem to believe that everything is political.
Of course, when something is made political, it must necessarily be stripped of its other definitions.
So here is a truth: there are 2.5 million kids enrolled right now in charter schools. Yes, their parents chose to put them there. And instead of immediately berating the very idea of charter schools, I think a good question to ask is this:
Why do so many parents, particularly people of color and economically disadvantaged parents, welcome the chance to put their kids in charter schools?
If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander, right? If it’s what I’d choose for my own child, why wouldn’t I want everyone’s child to have the same opportunity?
Anyway, there are probably already a lot of screams and brain rants exploding, because the debate around charter schools no longer involves whether or not parents and communities want to have an alternative to the public school option. (For the record – there are many incredible public school districts that perform so well, charter schools simply don’t stand a chance. I had the privilege of working at one of those public schools, and can attest to the exemplary culture and rigorous academic standards inculcated throughout the district. If a charter school had opened? No one would go.)
I get that charter schools decrease local funding for public schools. And I recognize that is problematic.
I also fully accept that some charter schools are terrible; no, really – they’re bad. Some close with no warning in the middle of a school year, an event that can wreak havoc on a child’s academic progress, especially if they struggle to adapt to change. Others hire inexperienced, incompetent teachers. That’s not okay.
But truthfully, again: if public schools were rocking everyone’s socks off, charter schools wouldn’t have a rationale for being. I mean, A Nation At Risk was published in 1983. American students’ test scores as compared to their international counterparts have been steadily declining ever since then.
So charters are growing, and they’re beloved by a lot of parents, because the people who run them are free to take chances on new curriculums, enforce different kinds of discipline. Many of them outperform their public school counterparts, but some of them don’t. And every charter is certainly not a good fit for every kid; I’m fine with admitting that.
What I’m not fine with is telling parents that their child’s academic experience – the only academic experience that unique kid will ever get – might be terrible, but the system depends on the tax dollars attached to her. So, hey – get over it.
And it’s not as if rising interest and enrollment at charters is the only indication of parental dissatisfaction with public school. Homeschooling is also on the rise, and it’s not the evangelical Christian phenomenon of stereotypical rendering.
A rising number of those choosing to homeschool are African American, who feel traditional public schools simply cannot or will not provide what their children need for success.
Look at the world today: without a college degree, there are almost no good paying jobs.
Academics are serious. What kind of education a child gets – that plays a monumental role in what choices will be available to him.
But instead of focusing on that – the individual, parent by parent, child by child, family by family desire for a great school – the public discourse far too often devolves into screaming matches that break down along partisan lines. Like everything else.
The left hates ALL charter schools because they are elitist, they steal tax dollars, they hurt union teachers, they’re too free market, they’re not held accountable.
The right loves ALL charter schools because they are pro-free market, because they are stricter, because they hire whoever they want, because they make their own standards.
And this writer thinks all of that is incredibly shallow and unimaginative.
Some public schools are phenomenal. Parents, communities, kids – everyone loves them. They take time to hire invested teachers, and then they invest back into those educators. They focus on the student – each individual, beautiful young soul – and recognize their role is to make sure every single one of those kids feels welcomed, challenged, and supported in their academic environment.
Love those schools.
But let’s get real – some public schools are pretty awful. Year after year, more kids fail than pass, more students drop out than graduate. And nothing changes. Because if things did change, then those numbers would also start to move.
Why in the everlasting hell should parents whose kids are zoned to those schools, and who cannot afford an alternative, be left without any options for their sons and daughters?
I simply do not accept the monstrosity buried in that calculation – that “the system” is more important than the child, even when “the system” is a proven failure.
So I hope the debate about charter schools stops being about partisan bickering, and starts focusing on long-term solutions for improving our schools – public and charter.