When we were children, there wasn’t too much debate about where you went to school. Your options were the local public school you were zoned for or maybe a private school. Those were the choices and they were completely acceptable. Things certainly have changed for our little ones. In Arizona, we are leading the nation on charter school enrollment. Every parent wants the best for their child, and there are lots of reasons a parent may choose a charter over a public school.
While public schools should be the best choice they often times are overlooked for greener pastures. Unfortunately, this creates a vicious circle. Parents take their children out of public school, leading to decreased funding. Lack of funding means cut programs. Cut programs cause parents to take their kids out of school. This continues until the school is left under performing and run down, while affluent and privileged parents are able to take their child somewhere else.
I’ve taught in both charter schools and public schools. I’ve also been a teacher in Arizona long enough to recognize the shady underbelly that many may not be as familiar with when it comes to our state’s attempt at privatizing education. In Flagstaff, we can look at some of our charters and know that they do what they love for the good of the community and not because they are corporate masterminds looking to turn schools into a business…like most charter schools.
Charter schools can choose their students, leading students to learn under the effect of legalized segregation. While it may be less obvious in rural communities, in culturally diverse places like Flagstaff it can be easy to see. One charter school in town shows 80% white children, while a nearby public school shows only 45%.
Charters can also ask parents to remove their children without any protocol. For many of the “nationally academic ranked” charter schools, it’s typically the “underperforming” students that are asked to leave, usually right before state testing happens. Charter schools are legally mandated to provide adequate special education programs for the students that do have special needs. However, they are also not legally required to admit students with special needs based on services they choose not to provide.
What about the Teachers?
Teachers at charter schools do not have to be certified to the same qualifications as public school teachers. Generally, they just need to hold some sort of degree. One prestigious charter school boasts that their teachers are professionals in their field–there are some teachers with a degree in very specific fields teaching 2nd or 3rd grade. I’m not sure why there is a value in a professional with a Masters over an educator that is actually trained on pedagogy, child development, and management.
Teachers have fewer rights at charter schools. They are paid less, discouraged from joining unions and generally are under-valued. Charters will typically provide less support to a teacher that is dealing with confrontations from parents. It makes sense, it is probably easier and cheaper to replace a teacher with less experience or non-certified, in the school’s opinion, than a student that brings money into the school. Looking at recent teacher walk-outs for increased funding for education, FUSD’s board approved to stand by teachers, while one local charter school fought against their teachers and another charter stayed open entirely.
The Future of Education
When we plan our children’s schooling in the future there are many different things that we value that we have to consider. We want their school to reflect the diversity of the community. We want to know that both teachers and students are valued there. We want a school where families are involved. We want a school that has well-rounded programs for our children to be involved in. We want so many things in our children’s school. But we won’t get any of those things if we aren’t willing to do our part as parents and community members. We are only going to get out of public school what we are willing to put in.
I understand the appeal some charter schools have to offer, and certainly many schools are operated by those with the best intention for students who truly do just want to offer a different choice. I just don’t believe that choice should come at the expense of public schools and public school students.