by Dr. Lilburn Wesche, NNU professor emeritus
Charter schools were initiated with great expectations. The original idea was to establish research or experimental schools which would not be subject to some of the antiquated or restrictive state or federal codes, such as requiring a certain number of minutes per subject, a specific curriculum, only licensed teachers, class size and other regulations.
But it was not to be! After a decade of significant charter school growth, research and experience from around the country show that most charter schools are failing to explore better approaches to learning or to serve students with the greatest needs.
Instead they are often disrupting communities, increasing racial segregation, and introducing new kinds of corruption into education, all the while producing similar or worse educational outcomes than public schools. The evidence is mounting that placing education in the hands of unelected privately run organizations whose pri-mary goal is profit or prejudice is a disaster for students, teachers, and communi-ties.
In a society which values equality, deliberating setting aside public funds to establish elite or pseudo segregated schools flies in the face of the American dream.
By emphasizing a narrow focus such as ‘classics’ ‘ liberal arts’ ‘mathematics’ ‘literature’ foreign languages’ ‘technology’ or specific themes such as ‘patriotism,’ or ‘essentials’, charter schools established parameters which assured them of a specific audience. Transportation problems and admission standards which require certain academic potential or performance further reduce the possibilities for special needs applicants and children of poverty.
As a result, public schools become burdened with a far greater percentage of special needs students, second language learners, children with minimal or no parent sup-port, and who are ‘different’.
Concentrating on a limited curricular focus at the elementary or even secondary level denies many charter school students sufficient exposure to a broad general education.
Despite the restricted audience a number of studies indicate test scores of charter school students are little different or below public school scores and show no valid superiority. In fact, when scores are limited to students with similar advantages, public school students do better.
The opportunity to establish a school outside the general system has enabled profit seeking promoters to attempt to privatize the public school system. These special interest groups, as well as others have created schools which discriminate, segregate, indoctrinate, generate elitism and limit student population. Worst of all charter schools have become a major movement to eliminate respect for diversity, to exclude those who don’t fit the norm.
Granted, the concept of ‘all men are created equal’ put forth by our founding fa-thers really meant ‘all Caucasian, northern European male property owners’. But as a people, most of us, contrary to some politicians, do believe that ALL of us should be equal in opportunity before the law.
There is a place for what charter schools were intended to do and it could readily be done by public schools. Districts or schools, rather than pseudo private charter schools, can be selected to pilot new ideas. Providing funds for research and incorporating those ideas which merit universal application needs only courageous, innovative leadership and adequate financing by state and local policy makers.
Ideas such as mastery learning and continuous progress utilizing team teaching, year around schools, peer tutoring, small and large group instruction, professional development, flipped classroom, technology in the classroom, core curriculum, on line learning, blended instruction, and other strategies can benefit from carefully structured practice and research. Successes can be transferred so all students benefit.
A major objective in every class and school in America should be to provide those knowledges, skills and qualities which will foster open mindedness, the capacity to think critically and be receptive to that which will make for a better world.
Critical thinking begins with the question: Why? Why are we doing what we are doing, and how can we improve?
Unfortunately, policy makers begin with the question: What are we doing and what needs to change that won’t increase costs?
The takeover of the charter school movement by self interest groups and profiteers is an indictment of public school policy makers. Maybe it’s time for the public to open their minds to the vista of what could be and demand that education, not corporate greed, be our priority.
Editor: Terry Gilbert Today’s Columnist: Lilburn Wesche, Ed.D. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Lilburn Wesche, NNU professor emeritus, has been a secondary school teacher and administrator, university professor and administrator, and education consultant. He is past president of the Seattle Uni-versity and SW Idaho PDK Chapters and has served on committees and councils of numerous professional organizations.
by Dr. Lilburn Wesche, NNU professor emeritus