Feb 2, 2012

ARTICLE: Charter Schools

What Happens to the Kids When Charter Schools Fail?

Unintentionally, this article makes a point about choice and charter schools. Parents want to make the best choices for their children, but, blindly attracted to charter schools, they're quick to abandon public schools. The subject of this article, a mom, enrolled her daughter in a charter school, witnessed small classes and caring attitudes, and felt satisfied with her decision. Unfortunately, the charter school was, according to the state's ratings, unsuccessful.  

First, a charter school is simply another school. You can pack it full of ineffective teachers and ignorant administrators. If you open a charter school using invented theories and lack of research, it will not prosper. My wife wanted to enroll our daughter in a brand new charter school because, she assumed, it would have smaller classes and other charter school benefits. In a mild rage, I declared that we know nothing about the teachers or philosophy. Who cares about class size?! Japan has huge classes--they handle it just fine. She won't learn in a small class led by an idiot.

Also, it's silly to assume that a caring atmosphere was translating into learning. The sweetest teacher with the best intentions can prove ineffective. And, to complicate things further, a caring, effective teacher is still dealing with children, small humans with personalities, issues, and preferences.

Charter School Controversy -- A Look at the Numbers

This article has interesting data, but I want to offer one of the comments.

SarahC: The larger controversy is whether parents can distinguish between good schools and bad ones well enough to make wise AND tax-payer supported choices for their children. After all, we may agree that parents have the right to treat their cancer-stricken child with herbs from the Amazon, but neither private insurance nor Medicare will pay to send the child to Brazil to get them. The article by Ms Butrymowicz suggests once again that parents have trouble making those distinctions

I thought that was a clever analogy.
New Grades On Charter Schools
"The study found that, in general, students at charter-network schools outperform similar students at traditional public schools, although sometimes not by very much. But that overall average masks an enormous variation among different CMOs. High-performing CMOs are so effective they are providing the equivalent of three years of schooling for students every two years. But CMOs at the low end are so bad they are effectively costing students a year of learning every two years. Bottom line: 10 of the 22 CMOs are outperforming their public-school peers in math and reading, in some cases substantially; eight are middling; and four are serious laggards."

Obviously, this is a small sample of the national collection of charter schools. I can't help but notice, though, that the results are mixed and unconvincing. Why aren't charter schools revolutionizing the American education system with success across the board? Education is more than a name. Beyond all doubt, I believe that a school is successful when its teachers are well-trained, respected, and free to make decisions. That can happen at a charter school or a public school.

Ultimately, I think the debate of public school vs. charter school is distracting us from a larger issue. The United States of America is average and falling. The very nature of our education system is crippling. Even the most successful charter school is simply a bandage on a fractured limb.

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