Dear Students & Regular PDXEAN Readers: This post is the first in a two-week series dedicated to giving a public space for student voices on educational equity and our school system. Please read, pass on these posts, and comment! The more we all contribute to the conversation, the better informed we’ll all be and the more able to act to support kids and schools.
Charter schools seem like a great idea in theory, while some have even proven great in practice. Charter schools are given the freedom to operate outside of the mainstream public-school curriculum, which we learned from previous lessons has been severely limited by the need for schools to improve standardized test scores. Charter schools may allow students the opportunity to learn subjects outside of the NCLB limited curriculum. They can experiment with alternative methods to improve student achievement and test scores other than teaching to the test and pass their results on to other schools. In this way, charter schools can be an outlet for public school reform; and, given our education system’s previous record with reform, they may be our best chance for such reform.
However, charter schools are not at all without controversy. Firstly, what happens to the children in charter schools that fail? Is the risk of leaving these children without a proper education worth the possibility of innovative education reform? My initial reaction is that it is a risk the parents of these children are apparently willing to take when they sign their children up for a charter school.
Second, many critics argue that charter schools take already limited resources away from the public schools, which are attended by the majority of the nation’s students. They argue we should focus our attention and resources on these public schools (“Oregon charter school debates lead to little progress”, Oregon Live). Worse still, Jonathan Kozol in “Stop Bargaining for Crumbs” argues that Charter schools have further contributed to education inequality. Many Charter schools explicitly target African American students, while others are clearly intended for children of white middle-class, liberal parents (Kozol calls them “woodsy Walden schools”). Subsequently, many charter schools are even more segregated than public schools (which we‘ve learned have not much improved since Brown v. Board).
At the risk of bringing back the “separate but equal” debate, I ask: are students at a charter school like “The Black Success Academy” really limited by the fact that their peers are all African Americans? Might students in an all-black charter school benefit from cultural solidarity and at the same time receive a comparable liberal education to their peers at the “Woodsy Walden School”? Is Kozol implying that black students need to assimilate to a white curriculum if they wish to have as good as education as the Woodsy Walden Students? (perhaps more white students should learn about black culture?)
It seems to me that these charter schools, if they receive equal funding and effort, can be equal, or at least can be a sort of experiment to help us learn whether the schools can actually be equal.
Ultimately, my question is whether y’all think charter schools contribute to inequality and the achievement gap in the way Kozol describes, or do you think the nature of charter schools might allow a sort of separate equality?