Why Is the Discussion on School Reform Dominated by Charter Schools? (by Guest Student Blogger Maria Baker)

Note: Maria Baker is our fourth guest student blogger of the week.  She is currently taking the Summer Youth Enrichment Capstone at Portland State University and volunteered this summer at the James John SUN Program.  Her bigger questions about why discussion on school reform is dominated by charter schools is an important one to be asking!  Is the charter schools model significant enough to take over the conversation?  Who is in charge of guiding these conversations, and why is this model so talked about?

Charter schools are a big discussion point among the US educational system, but they only enroll about three percent of public school students. The specialized approach to learning is designed for disadvantaged or unhappy students in traditional public schools. When you factor in the lottery style admittance though, charter schools seem more like a special privilege rather than a program that will save the education system. With all the problems in the traditional educational system, should charter schools really be given so much time and effort when it only serves a small population?



22 thoughts on “Why Is the Discussion on School Reform Dominated by Charter Schools? (by Guest Student Blogger Maria Baker)

  1. No way, we’re quibbling over small details of a type of school that only serves a tiny portion of Oregon’s youth. Instead we should be asking how we can shrink the spending gap between schools in PPS and other districts, we should be asking what we can do in terms of early education and family planning for people in impoverished neighborhoods. We should be asking ourselves why our schools are becoming more and more segregated. Fighting over the details of charter schools feels pointless in the middle of all this mess.

    • Tyler, your comment reminds me of a discussion I was having with a friend over the tension among public institutions all scrambling to support their services and fighting over the same small pot of money. Here’s an article that showcases one such fight: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/08/multnomah_county_library_propo.html. The Children’s Levy and the library have to fight over the same small scraps? Something is much more deeply wrong here if two needed organizations have to go head to head. And this kind of fighting diverts attention from the real problem — that we do not have stable funding through taxes to keep public services going.

  2. Reform in general should dominate the debate, yet charter schools should only be of primary focus for a small fraction of that discussion, maybe three percent. Moreover, I like that educational reform is becoming more of a hotbed issue among communities, however, if the agenda becomes bogged down primarily with charter schools, only a small proportion of the population would actually benefit from a lengthy debate.

    • I will have to agree with both Zapoura and William. Fighting over who gets the attention takes away from the true issue of stable funding. In general, I feel we are all too quick to take up a hot topic because we feel strongly about it, but this leaves the important details on the outer rim of importance.
      As William said, I am also happy that educational reform is becoming an issue in the forefront of our communities. While I feel charter schools (some, but not necessarily all) can do a good job with the students they serve, the model they follow to actually teach kids is not condusive to the current public school system. I feel the issue should be about how we could keep successful charter schools running to see the long-term effects of these models and give the ones who are not a time limit to come up with an effective strategy and if not, shut them down and put any tax funding toward public schools until we can properly serve the larger public school system in a way that could model the successful strategies implemented by the other schools.
      I understand this could be a long shot, but if not this, does anyone have another idea?

      • Molly:
        Your comment about the way that focus on a single education issue can pull focus from the things that really matter reminds me of the in-class discussion on unions that we had in my Friday class. The big question was…is this focus on the bad teachers (a seeming assumption that most teachers are bad and that tenure keeps teacher performance low) actually both a red herring (it distracts people from the real issues) and an insult to people in the profession?

      • Zapoura-
        Thank you for bringing this up, this was something I wanted to add in that class discussion. I get really frustrated about this notion that struggling schools, schools that aren’t passing benchmarks, the general “poor quality” of education is to blame on teachers. I think that like you said, that this is one giant red herring that parading around. Certainly, “good teachers” can make a tremendous difference in the life and learning of their students regardless of the environment, no one is questioning that. That said, why are teachers who have: 40 students, 1/2 of whom are already behind, a 1/4 of which are ESL students, with limited resources, who are pressured to teach to standardized tests, why are they solely responsible for the result. Certainly any progress in that type of class requires a Super Teacher of sorts, whose idea was it to take the bottom rung of the ladder and put all the weight on it?

    • Given the current educational distress that our youth is experiencing, and the unfair work conditions that educators are faced with, “bogging down” seems to be a very appropriate response. Nothing will ever change in the absence of genuine ingenuity and educational elasticity. When a model is not working, a discussion must occur in an effort to change, alter, or abolish the failed one. There are plenty of other models to be brought into the lime light for trials; maybe some are too complex and unlikely to succeed? However, the model that works across the bouquet of current educational models is the ability for educators of each institution to amend and implement educational curriculum that is applicable to the individuals, and society, in which the institution it resides! This just so happens to be the logical planning that occurs with charter schools. Do they deserve all the attention….probably not….but trying to limit the discussion of their possibility to reform seems vacuous.

  3. Maria,

    I do think that we should be putting a lot of focus into charter schools. Our public schools are far from impressive so why not try something different. If charter schools are the answer to our failing public school system then we should be investing out time and effort into them. I think starting out slow is a good idea, lets slowly dip our feet into this and see how things work. If they work to our advantage then we can expand. I do agree it is not fair that charter schools allow a small percentage of students, but if charter school are going to help close the educational gap, then I imagine we will see more and more charter school popping up wich would allow more students. Ideally if charter schools are the answer to our lacking school system then every public school would become a charter school, and we would have to worry about students being left out of the system.

    • Kim,
      I agree that we should be be focusing our attention on charter schools as well. Charter schools are offering an alternative, that seem to be, for the most part, successful, to the far from impressive public school system that is in place right now. If something is working, why not put more time into discussing how to spread the success around to other children? We have started out slow to see how things will work and now that we see that they are improving the chances for our children, we should be trying to give this great opportunity to all of our children. We should not be focusing on the money that is being spent or competed for, we should be focusing on what is actually working.

    • I have a problem with focusing our efforts on charter schools, mainly for the fact that it’s an unfair system. If our public schools had smaller class sizes and were able to teach in a variety of methods (like charter schools do) then our public schools would be performing at a much higher level. I actually just presented on charter schools in class on Wednesday, and did you know that the percentage of students with disablilities and second-language learners in charter schools is very small and sometimes nonexistent? This being said, it’s a no wonder charter schools appear to be doing better. I’m not saying that charter schools are horrible and that they don’t do any good, I’m just saying that if we would incorporate some of the same characteristics into public schools that charter schools portray then maybe our public schools wouldn’t be so bad.

  4. In our class today one of our classmates gave a presentation on charter schools that got me thinking about your question. In Oregon, charter schools serve a very tiny percentage of students, and it seems that most of them are fairly well off. Other states have a much higher percentage of students in charter schools that focus on certain needs or areas, which is a much different model. Perhaps the debate over charter schools can be justified when a larger percentage of students are being served.
    Why is the model so different in Oregon? Would the model that other states are using work here?

  5. I don’t think that charter schools are the only answer to educational inequities in Oregon but I think that they are part of the solution. Some charter schools, like the KIP academy in LA, seem to really invest a lot of time and energy into each student and the results show. If kids are coming into KIP academy 2 years behind their grade level and leaving in the top 25% clearly some charter schools are doing something right.

    I don’t see a problem with giving charter schools additional funding, especially if the funding that they are getting right now does not cover startup costs or the costs of finding a facility. I think that the benefit of Charter schools is that they set a higher standard for kids and inspire the public schools to do the same.

    • Your post leads me to wonder, first off where the extra funding comes from and secondly who happens to the kids who do not feel a need to reach a higher standard. My only major fear with increasing funding to charters is that it means a decreased funding in public schools, which in some case is ok. However it seems similar to NCLB, in the fact that we would be asking public schools to do more with less in order to keep up. Secondly, there are plenty of kids out there who have no desire to achieve more, and simply desire to pass and move forward. What happens to those kids in a charter system? Do they get left behind and forgotten because they are ok and happy with the system, or does this system show them a route to which they may have a desire they didn’t have before.

  6. I wouldn’t say that charter schools deserve all the attention, but I do believe it deserves some. For how successful many charter schools have become, I suggest that individuals that are in an area that is struggling financially, or educationally, deserves a chance to have a proper education – that has been successful (i.e. Harlem Success Academy). But, I am not saying we completely ignore the other public schools. The thing is, we all need to be proactive and collective to find things that can help our education system, which tends to be lacking these days. I feel like a lot of finger pointing is done at the Department of Education, the teachers and the schools – but I think a majority of the problems lie within the parents. Parents need to spend time at school board meetings, parent-teacher associations and so on, to ensure that their children are receiving a proper education. What seems to be happening is that a lot (not all) of the parents are not spending some time ensuring that the schools are educating their children properly. The parents need to voice their ideas, help out the schools, and do what they can to aid the schools, so they can properly educate their children. Essentially, we can have the charter schools available to (possibly) better educate students when public schools fail to do so, but we – as in the community, parents and so forth – need to aid those public schools that are failing so we can better educated our students.

    • Casey, I agree with what you are saying. I think charter schools offer a great opportunity to students who may not have other opportunities. I do fear though, that if we take the best students out of schools or take students with different ideas, we will be left with a school of nothingness and limited desire. I like what you had to say about parents, and I pose this questions in looking deeper into the education system, do you feel that if there was more attention payed to the parents and the roles they need to play both in and out of the classroom there would be less issues with the education system? I personally feel that if we were given resources to help parents “parent” essentially we would see an increase in education that the charter system could not provide.

      • Ashley-
        You make a good point that Charter schools could help with parents role in the classroom, and I think that those approaches to education should be used in traditional schools as well. I think that Charter schools provide a great outlet for people to try different techniques of teaching and that the successful ones should be implemented into mainstream education.
        I also think that contributions from parents and community members makes people more invested in the school and more motivation to ensure it runs smoothly. Ideally even though charter schools already get only about half their funding from the state, if more funds could from community contributions, it would help the growth of not only charter schools, but the traditional education system too.

      • Maria and Ashley: I am with you both on the parental involvement. During high school, I hated my mother wanting to be so involved but now that I’m all grown up…I really appreciate her and thank her as much as I can for being so involved and for caring. Parental involvement does make a difference. I also agree that if community businesses and leaders invest into schools or charters schools, there is a higher chance of improvements and a higher chance that businesses will continue to provide into their investments. So an idea may be that parents should contribute a small amount of money and find a business partner that could contribute to their child’s school.

  7. Very good questions! First of all, the charter schools model are significant enough that there should be continual conversations about it. I graduated from a charter school and it wasn’t because I was disadvantaged but because they offered a better program and education system than public schools. The only people are currently in charge of this conversation are public officials, and the school board. No matter how many open board meetings, town halls meetings, and letters we send, our schools are not willing to change or don’t have the assets to make the changes necessary. Charters schools is a hot topic. I actually enjoy talking about them and defending their mission and success stories.

    I know that our traditional school systems are having problems and not working so why dont we just make the change and try something new? Why limit the expansion to that small lottery percentage? How would you feel like if you didnt get chosen or didnt get a letter of acceptance? Its unfortunate that we are just playing with our children’s minds.

    • Luke Schultz-
      Sense we know public education is lacking in assessing student achievement or success, why not expand funds in re-building public education instead of creating alternative Charter schools in inner city urban areas. In other words charter schools do give a better education but for what cost? Think about the children, who have their hopes up and be denied in the lottery. Felipe says, “its unfortunate that [we as individuals seek what we want instead of what our children want], we are just playing with our children’s minds [and emotions]”. In addition, the blame should not be on the teachers or students but the educational system for failing them of their rights to have a well rounded education. Russell Baker once said, “An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious – just dead wrong”. This quote harvests the reality of how education is becoming a false hope for children in inner cities all over our nation. We must safe our children’s quest for a true education, if it means that some must go either to traditional public schools or charter schools to receive their education. We might start are educational journey differently but in all we will end are journey together.

      • I do believe that the charter schools deserve a lot of time and effort, and the fact that the charter schools only serve a small population is a problem. The charter schools are working as hard as they can at expanding and reaching out to as many children as they can but the educational union and some community members are fighting against them because they feel threatened. It is true that if the public educational school system put some major changes into play that succeeded like the charter schools then it would be worth putting more effort into that. The problem is the traditional educational system is very static and stubborn to change. The current system follows a specific guide and for the time being it seems like the most effective way to make change is expanding charter schools and modeling success for the traditional system. By putting more effort and time into charter schools, I think that it will add the pressure that is needed for the traditional system to make drastic changes. The children deserve real results in real time, not after they are years below their educational level and out of school. Charter schools allow an alternative option for some and an extra hope for all.

      • Luke,
        I have the same idea as you and I really like your post. Why we do not try to make our public school be like Charter school to help students and their parents. I agree that Charter school do a great job to give students a good education but it also is responsible that make other students disappointed and sad just because they did not win the lottery.

  8. Even though charter schools offer longer school days, adjust curriculum to meet student needs, create a unique school culture, and develop next generation learning models, I have to be honest with myself that these school does not make any changes to the U.S education. If they make changes, how about those children that do not win the lottery? How about their hopes? I think Charter school does not have any differences than public school. If people think about opening a new school like charter school to help student “get education they deserve”, why they do not try to improve our existing public school?

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