What are we arguing about? Answer: Lack of Regulation, Charter School Overload, and Parents’ and Student’s Economic Clout.
Argument Number One: Lack of Regulation. Charter schools are public schools that are permitted the flexibility to fully implement non-traditional educational models (i.e., Competency-based Education, STEM, or Link Learning). These sites do not have to compromise their instructional programs to shifting district policies or bureaucracy. With less “red tape” educators can focus on learning, college and career readiness, and student engagement. However, autonomy does come with a price.
These schools are required to show results instantaneously. Charters are required to meet the same academic benchmarks like most public schools. Ideally, most state agencies give charters 3-5 years to prove effectiveness. If a charter is deemed under performing within that time period, the site is closed. Thus far, the public has not witnessed consistent charter oversight. Instead, they have seen a lot of instructional experimentation without results.
This is because regulations for charters vary greatly from state to state. A number of states are still sorting out their accountability practices. A common problem for state agencies is how to regulate a charter with “out of the box” structures and instructional methods with an evaluation system meant for traditional public schools. Until the accountability structures are resolved, the public will continue to perceive charter schools as lacking in regulation.
Argument Number Two: Selective Recruitment and Charter Overload. It is true that some charter schools recruit specific student populations. As an educational option, they have the autonomy to enroll only students that are a suitable “fit” for their instructional programs. Like private schools, they can refuse any student entry due to his or her academic record, assessment scores, age or level of commitment. Selective recruitment is why the public is anti-charter. Anti-charter groups argue that these schools only intend to work with higher achieving students. Thus, restricting educational options for children with diverse academic and cognitive abilities.
In fact, this argument is not entirely true; many charters do recruit academically diverse students. In fact a number of charters are specifically designed to work with specialized student populations such as: court involved youth, dropouts, or students with severe learning disabilities. Without these charter schools, these students would have no educational options.
This problem really stems from charter overload on communities. Many state agencies authorize charter expansions without taking into account how these schools will affect their current public options. In years past, charters were only granted to supplement an educational gap lacking in their cadre of public schools. The granting process has obviously changed because we now are inundated with charters that are competing for “every” student.
Argument Number Three: Economic Clout. Every school is competing for funding; the higher the enrollment rate the more funding a site receives from its home district and state. Therefore, every school is forced – public and charter- to compete for every dollar. According to anti-charter groups, this funding “competition” is diverting dollars from public schools. And they are right; competition is the real underlying issue, here.
For the first time, parents and students have economic clout over a school system. As consumers, they are choosing where their educational funds should go. Their funding decisions are based on a school’s ability to:
- Increase academic achievement in a year;
- Provide competent teaching staff for all students;
- Offer innovated educational programs (i.e., Technology Integration, Career Technical Education, or STEM); and
- Guarantee a safe and secure learning environment.
Parents and students no longer feel they need to settle for any educational programs. If a school cannot offer or meet their demands as consumers, they are taking their educational dollars elsewhere. For public schools to recoup these dollars, they must prove that they are a worthy option like their charter counterparts. And vice versa, charters need to continue to show results in order to keep their student population and parent support.
These arguments are constantly being played out at the state and federal level. This discourse will continue until we can solve each one of these issues.