While having the choice to send your child to a charter school may seem like an appealing option to some, the fact is, charter schools can damage public education for the majority of students and may not lead to a better education than can be had at a traditional public school.
Charter schools introduce competition into the educational system. They are not subject to the same standards and procedures as traditional public schools and have the ability to make policies based on the interests of their sponsors, as oppose to those of their students. As a retired teacher and principal, this idea is very troubling to me.
If you are unfamiliar, here is a brief summary of what charter schools are. Charter schools produce an educational system where schools compete against each other for dollars (middle and higher income families) and teachers. The effect is similar to that which private schools have on public schools; private schools tend to funnel money and teachers away from public schools which leaves them with lower quality teachers and less money, especially when funding is determined by a school’s performance on statewide exams and/or attendance. In districts with diverse populations and students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, charter schools can pose a real problem. When higher income families leave the public school in their district in pursuit of what they think might be a better education for their child, families and parents with less information and/or money or who are not as active in their child’s education are then left behind. This leads to less money for new technologies, field trips, new updated textbooks and teachers. As a result, it is even harder for a struggling public school to drive up graduation rates or MAP test scores, making it more of a struggle for the kids with the least resources to succeed.
As well as potentially damaging the education of others, supporters of charter schools may not even be giving their child an edge by selecting his or her school. In fact, the worst school in America, as rated by Neighborhood Scout, ranked Tomorrow’s Builders Charter School (grades 9 -12) in East St. Louis (IL) as the nation’s worst school, where the percentage proficient in math was 0% and reading only 3%. Also, a report by the Joint Committee on Education from 2010 found that, although charter schools in Kansas City “on average had larger learning gains in both math and communication arts than did the non-charter (traditional) schools,” charters in St. Louis showed no significant gains in mathematics when compared to non-charters and that gains in communication arts were “significantly less.” If charters can only provide a slightly better or an even worse education than traditional schools, it could hardly be said that the collateral damage caused by charters is worth any of the perceived benefits.
Teacher tenure is also a cause for concern with charter schools as they aren’t required to have a tenuring system in place. Teacher tenure has already come under attack in Missouri’s state legislature in an omnibus bill containing the Teacher Tenure Act that would abolish teacher tenure as well as expanded charter schools. Opponents of teacher tenure argue that the tenure process protects bad teachers and makes it difficult to remove ineffective teachers, which hurts students. However, proponents of teacher tenure, myself included, would argue that it protects good teachers from being fired for political or personal reasons. Missouri has one of the lengthiest tenuring processes in the nation. It takes five years of consecutive teaching to receive teacher tenure in Missouri, whereas in most states it only takes three. Tenured teachers are also protected from firing due to budget cuts, which many cities are now facing. Protecting government jobs during a time of economic recession is important to help keep money flowing in the economy. Layoffs in the public sector can greatly impact the private sector, and teacher layoffs are particularly harmful as less teachers leads to larger class sizes and less one-on-one time with students in the classroom. When students receive an education of a lower quality due to layoffs it only makes it harder for American students to compete for jobs in the now global job market.
As a retired Missourian educator, I think the best answer for the education system is to avoid expanding charter schools because of the harm they bring to traditional public schools, especially those which are struggling, and to protect the teacher tenuring process. Instead of focusing on opening more charter schools, let’s focus on improving public schools already in existence.