Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Moving Into a New House: Framing the Case for Charter Schools Part 3

This post is cross-posted at
<---Go to Part 2--

Governance Issues:

Charter law differs in every state. Opponents of the charter movement often frame the argument that schools created by charter are simply public private schools and breeding grounds for ideas thrust on the public by billionaire interests. However, this does not have to be so. While charter law in many states allows for this kind of relinquishment of local control to happen it does not follow suit in every state in the union. Minnesota, the first state in the union to have a charter law, does not allow for this kind of governance. Minnesota charter law requires that schools created by charter be founded by and run by a majority of teachers who serve in that school. The other board members must consist of elected positions from the community and seats for parents of students who attend the school. This arrangement has made for some very nice schools. Lets not throw the baby out with the basket.

Student Performance & "Cherry Picking":

Another argument that has been made about Charters is that they don't perform any better than their traditional counterparts. When taken in average this may be true. However, to quote the Minnesota Department of Education, "If you have seen one charter school, you have seen one charter school." Charter law opens the door for a plethora of types of learning environments for kids. Some are successful and some are not. Some attract a student body that likely will under perform on assessment measures due to other external factors. As for the claim that charter schools only want the best students, the following is an excerpt from the charter school application form for the state of Minnesota:

Minnesota Statewide CSP Goals: The following state-level goals are approved for Minnesota’s Federal CSP Grant Project; applicants are expected to meet one or more of these goals: · At least 50% of new charter schools approved each year will target educationally disadvantaged populations, including economically disadvantaged students, English Language Learners, students with disabilities, and students who are most at risk of not meeting state academic standards. · The development of new charter schools in areas where: ­
  • Parents show a high demand for additional school choice options (such as areas where existing charter schools have large waiting lists);
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  • A large proportion or number of public schools have been identified for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring under Title I;
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  • A large proportion of students have difficulty meeting Minnesota academic standards;
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  • A high concentration of families live in poverty; and/or
  • ­
  • Public education options are limited, such as rural areas

Innovations & Opportunities:

Charter schools have also opened the door for a wide variety of innovations and opportunities that would likely never have seen the light of day in traditional settings. Schools centered around academic interests such as the arts or technology, schools specifically for English language learners, language immersion schools, college preparatory schools, schools specifically addressing the needs of economically disadvantaged students, innovative online schools, project-based learning, and teacher partnerships have all been allowed to flourish and grow because of charter law. Just like my new house these new schools are still going through a settling process. There are things they still need and there are changes in the design that should be made before builders build more just like them but for many these new designs fit current needs better than the old structures we used to live in.

Future topics in this series:
Disruptive Innovation: Why Traditional Ed Is Ill-Suited For Change
The War On Teacher Unions: How Charter Schools Can Offer A Better Alternative For Teachers
Charters vs. Other Education Alternatives
Burning Down The House: How School Choice Will Force Traditional Education to Change

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