Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Moving Into a New House: Framing the Case for Charter Schools Part 1

This post is cross-posted at


In the past ten years I have moved three times and owned three different homes. One of these houses was old and had over the years gone through numerous renovations and had a few additions. The various owners over the years did not agree with each other on wall color and thus the walls had many different layers of paint and quite a few scratches that revealed multicolored undercoatings. The home was also built in a time when there were different building codes and many health hazards we now know associated with certain building materials and design were not known. That home had many issues. Some we could deal with. We dug up the basement flooring and replaced the sewer pipes that run under the house. We repainted the home, though we could not strip or sand the old paint because of the dangers of releasing lead into our air. We removed artificial walls that did not make functional sense to us in the basement. We pulled up carpet and tile to reveal a beautiful hardwood floor that probably had gone years unknown to who knows how many previous owners. The home was beautiful and quaint but did not really fit our lifestyles nor our needs. It was perhaps more suitable for the lifestyles of my grandparents or even an older generation. As much as we tried to make changes to that structure to fit our tastes, needs, and lifestyle it was not possible to convert that space into the ideal living environment.

Our current home was built in 2007, just a year before we moved into it. While we have had some growing pains with this new place it's structure and design are far more suited to how my family lives. Sure, the basement is not yet finished and the trees on our lot are not mature. We don't yet have gutters or much landscaping. Our new home did not come with a washer and dryer, we had to purchase those ourselves. It does, however make us sleep a bit easier at night knowing that the home does not contain a speck of lead paint, that the home was built with energy efficiency in mind, and the air handling system actually works to control air quality in the home. These things were not possible with our old house. It is much easier to start from scratch and build a new home than to try and reform an old home to fit today's needs.

I think schools are a lot like homes in this regard. Like my old house, our traditional school system was built to serve the needs of a different era. Yes, there are beautiful and irreplaceable things in old homes but the changes that are needed to modernize an old home need to be weighed against the cost and practicality of those changes. Sometimes it is better to build new.

So, how do we address this issue? One answer is to create new schools to address today's students and prepare them for the world we live in today. This is largely how charter law came into existence. When the old house cannot be renovated to fit new needs it is often better to build a new one. Schools created by charter basically serve two purposes: 1. They attempt to better reach the needs of certain populations of students than their traditional counterparts; and 2. They can serve as testing grounds for new and innovative ideas in education.

---Go to Part 2----->

1 comment:

jenhegna said...

Nice analogy. Did you happen to listen to Scott McLeod' blogtalk - 4 guys talking - episode 3? (you have to fast forward it a bit)

Couple of thoughts that I heard a few times - if you want to change public education ..start a charter school. I was just chatting yesterday about how fun, creative, innovative it would be to work with an organization that is open to new ideas and willing to take risks! I think public education is stuck in a huge rut and at the rate we are going, it is going to take too much time to fix it!