Dr. James Ewers

COMMENTARY

This question depends in some ways on who you ask and where you live. I am an old school educator and with that comes a completely different mindset. Yet I realize times change and systems do too. The one component that hasn’t changed and won’t change is our children. They still want to learn and to do their best each day.

Research shows there were 6,900 public charter schools in 42 states and the District of Columbia in the 2016-2017 school year. During that year, they enrolled 3.1 million students. Minnesota was the first state to pass a law establishing a public charter in 1991.

Charter school organizations get approval from the state and become a part of its education system. These schools do not report to a traditional board of education.

The administrative reporting that charter schools have is what rubs some people the wrong way. For the most part, if parents go to a school board meeting to voice concerns, there are not many specific solutions they are going to get. You will receive empathy, but you won’t get any action.

In 1988, longtime teacher union advocate, Albert Shanker originally coined the term, charter schools. He said they were experimental schools. Shanker later changed his advocacy of them. He said, “That vouchers, charter schools, for-profit management schemes are all quick fixes that won’t fix anything.” Shanker passed away in 1991.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes says that on average, students attending charter schools receive 8 additional days of learning in reading. However, the National Education Policy Center has criticized them for having inaccurate data. Charter schools have made an impact in some communities.

For example, every public school in the city of New Orleans is a charter school. Interestingly, New Orleans is the only city in the state of Louisiana with all public charter schools. That has made for a great debate in the city. Proponents say this system gives students school choice. Critics say there has been little change in the schools since Katrina, the devastating hurricane that ripped through the city of New Orleans.

Those opposed to the schools wonder if you really have school choice when you can’t get in the school of your choice. Public charters are now under one umbrella in New Orleans. Yet each school has its individual board of directors. When listening to these arguments and comparisons, a person could come away easily confused.

Cities like Charlotte NC and Jacksonville FL have both public schools and charter schools. Now in my opinion that is truly school choice. Charter school boards and traditional boards in these cities have worked out a system of accountability and fairness that has made both co-exist equally.

Whether you are a charter school advocate or not, parents must be fully engaged in the education process. Back in the day, our parents were involved so it can be no different today. PTA organizations were an important element of the school community.

The inconsistency now is that not all charter schools have direct parental involvement. That must improve. Equally as important are how charter school administrators communicate with parents and how boards are set up. First, school administrators must communicate effectively because parents are important stakeholders. If not, parents and love providers become frustrated.

Who makes up charter school boards and what are their qualifications? It is my thinking that board members need to have some specific training on how best to become effective board members. If not, they will be unable to provide direction and leadership.

Charter schools have made an imprint on the educational landscape. We can’t rail against them simply because they don’t fit our point of view. Can we work together?

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