So, getting back to charter schools. The ideology behind charter schools sounds good. A school free from some regulations that public schools face. A school where there is transparency and accountability from the top down. A school where everyone has a voice and the overall goal is to provide excellent education. Then it starts to get tricky. All charter schools are not the same, nor all they all managed by the same group. Some are run by organizations. Some of the organizations may be a state or two away from the school (meaning communication is basically on-line or phone, no hands-on). Many are a 'for-profit' business. Each state has a committee to authorize a charter school. Any group can submit a proposal to the committee. The committee is organized based on state laws. Some charter schools receive public funding based on attendance. Not all teachers in a charter school are required to have certification to teach. This is a decision which varies from state to state.
So charter schools in a nutshell have many similarities to public schools. But there are some glaring differences. A public school operates under regulations mandated by the state. These mandates are similar throughout the U.S. All teachers in a public school have to be certified to teach. This is a license requiring a college education with training specifically geared towards working with kids. A public school is immediately governed by a school board which is made up of locally elected patrons wishing to volunteer their time to represent the needs and wants of the taxpayers in the district. They are local and provide hands-on guidance. A public school is not run like a business, by a business, or for a business. A public school provides an education for all children free from the influence of a business or organization.
One of my pet peeves (and I think most teachers agree) is a non-educator telling an educator what is best. I am speaking for myself and making a generalized statement when I say that most teachers do not want, nor do they need someone from "outside" the world of education telling them how to 'run' their classroom. Each classroom is unique. Its' own little world. It functions based on the individualized needs of each child. A teacher doesn't need a test or a bystander or a suit telling them which children need help with math or who reads below grade level. They don't need someone telling them that a child has a vision or hearing problem, or is hungry. They just know. Usually within the first couple of days, or even the first couple of hours.
That should make clear what is my largest concern with charter schools. An alternative to public school run by an organization or business. Supporters may say that they know what is best for their kids. I would dare to argue with them. Supporters may say that charter schools are held accountable and are transparent. I say attend school board meetings and ask questions. Volunteer. Visit the school. Bring treats for your child's classroom. If supporters of charter schools are only supporting them because of the control that they can personally have over them, they need to realistically ask themselves if they are trained in education and have the skills to teach. If they are only concerned with accountability, they should invest some time in their local public school.
To me, a charter school is simply another way for businesses and government to control the education of our children. What seems like a privilege today could actually turn out to be tomorrow's manipulation.
(For more of Kim Frencken's writing and information about her educational products, check out her blog, Chocolate For the Teacher.)