Charter School Redux

We’re nearing the end of “charter school season” and await the recommendations of the Acting Commissioner to see if any are advanced to the Board for approval later this month.

Some criticize charter schools for not educating all children, those with special needs or who are English language learners, in particular. Others say that charters and core public schools shouldn’t be compared because the rules are different. Still others say the problem is with how charters are funded.

But if you go back to the original law (and it’s been amended several times since enacted) one thing is clear: Where core public schools have always been about taking in and educating all children, charter schools never were — and that was supposed to provide their edge.

“Labs of innovation” meant that they were not going to take everyone on purpose. Instead, they would take a small number of students so that they could try something new and different from what was offered in the home public school — and then — share back with them the findings of their innovations for student success. But few charter schools have lived up to this notion.

It’s reasonable that families want a personalized education for their child, but the answer isn’t charter schools, because that’s not what they’re about. Ultimately, it’s competition for funding that charters offer, and this turns the whole thing into a resource problem because charters drain money and resources from schools and districts, thus increasing class sizes, resulting in fewer educators necessary to address student needs in the home core district. Considered another way, such a condition contributes to the very problem everyone says they are trying to solve – that of closing gaps. It’s an unhealthy cycle.

We should be so judicious, so scrupulous in our authorization, that we opt only for proposals with truly innovative and proven models not offered in the home districts. Why are we taking proposals for expansion or for new charter school authorization, when the state is falling down on its commitment to reimburse districts? Or when numbers of districts report time and again the impact that expansion has had, or authorization will have, on strapped budgets and an out of date state funding formula?

We all have a stake in the solid education of all our people, least of which are countless situations where our personal interests depend on others’ competence, empathy, and compassion. Charter schools have become a powerful wedge for privatizing a public good and Massachusetts voters said that was the wrong way to go when they voted 2:1 to oppose charter expansion (Ballot Question 2). Nevertheless, unimpeded expansion of charter schools continues to represent a threat to adequate funding of core public schools.

Photo credit: Tracy O’Connell Novick