It has been my experience that if you want to get a school board member riled up, just bring up charter schools in the conversation. There are few other education topics that get the heated attention and disdain that charter schools do. Words like “waste,” “fraud,” “abuse,” and “cherry picking” will soon enter the conversation, and at that point all hope of a pleasant dialogue is lost.
Given my 28 years of experience as a board member, I have seen both successful and unsuccessful charter schools. Likewise, I have seen both successful and unsuccessful public schools. And, many states have “open enrollment” policies. Parents, if given an option, will often move their child from a struggling school to another school if the issues impacting the struggling school are not getting resolved.
I am from California, a state that is considered by some to be the birthplace of the charter school movement. Since the passage of the California Charter Schools Act over 25 years ago, it’s earned the distinction of being the state with the most charter schools (almost 1,300) and the largest student enrollment in charter schools (over 600,000). That’s 10 percent of the state’s public school population. By the way, California also has the most public schools and public school students.
In California, there seem to be many issues with what I refer to as “for-profit” charter schools-—those that generate substantial funds for their corporate owners. The “for-profit” charters, sometimes referred to as “independent” charters, in my opinion, do not provide adequate oversight or demonstrate effective academic accountability and are motivated by profit.
There are also charters that are not-for-profit and are chartered under the control and review of the local board of education. It’s been my experience that these schools tend to be more accountable and are held to academic standards. These schools also are known as dependent charters, that is, dependent on the board that approved their charter.
We have four dependent charter schools in the Santa Rosa City Schools district. Each school provides parental choice and brings together students with similar interests.
The Accelerated Charter School fosters students’ critical thinking skills. Classes have a strong math and science focus and are designed to meet and exceed state standards.
The Charter School for the Arts is a school community that provides an academically rigorous program using an arts-integrated approach.
The Cesar Chavez Language Academy believes that the best setting for educating linguistic minority students is when two languages are used without apology and becoming proficient in both is considered a significant achievement.
And finally, our French-American Charter School provides a strong academic curriculum in French and English, giving students the opportunity to thrive in the global diversity that represents our world today.
I am very proud of my district’s dependent, or not-for-profit, charter schools. Each of them is held to the same rigorous standards as regular public schools, differing only in their delivery methods, mode of instruction, and the choice of materials that are decided at the site level. These differences allow the teachers to differentiate their instruction according to their students’ unique learning styles.
So, perhaps we shouldn’t put all charter schools under one umbrella. Is there such a thing as a good charter school? Mais, oui!