In honor of National Charter Schools Week, I decided to look into why charter schools often have a bad reputation.
If you search through the websites for Portland charter schools, you see the same perks: smaller classes, more student-teacher interaction, parent involvement, and attention to students who need a different learning environment than is offered by traditional public schools. Education advocates know that these characteristics can dramatically improve student learning. So why are charter schools so vilified?
The main concerns with charter schools have to do with the belief that they strip funding from traditional schools and do not get better results in terms of graduation or test scores. Additionally, some officials feel frustrated that there is so much debate over charter schools when they only serve a small percent of Portland Public School students.
When almost every school struggles financially, allocating resources to charter schools could be seen as wasteful. Charter schools struggle to stay afloat with the small funding they are given—80% of what traditional students bring in for kindergarten-8th graders, and 95% for high schoolers. Charter schools are not entitled to other public funding, so the inequities between traditional and charter schools are even larger than these figures reveal.
Other interesting statistics on charter funding can be found here: http://blog.chalkboardproject.org/education-achievement-gap/charter-schools-in-oregon-funding-and-the-future/
KNOVA Reynolds Charter School in Gresham must close 11 days early this year because of a lack of funding (http://www.oregonlive.com/gresham/index.ssf/2014/04/reynolds_charter_school_troubl.html). For a school that is already struggling to help kids meet benchmarks, this may have a significant impact.
But are the charter schools really the bad guy? To me, it seems like rather than holding charter schools up as the system that is failing, perhaps the district should look at the ways that traditional schools could use some of the methods employed by charter schools to improve learning conditions for traditional students. I find it illogical that charter schools would be demonized for having low success rates when many students who fail in traditional settings are asked to perform differently on the same tests, just in a different, less-funded settings. Essentially, charter schools attempt to address the failings of traditional schools with less money to do so, and little support from a district that seems like they wish the charters didn’t exist.
A recent article from the Huffington Post discusses a similar funding issue: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/30/charter-school-funding-_n_5242159.htmlv
How Oregon ranks in charters nationally: http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2013/01/charter_school_advocates_rank.html
Those interested in advocating for charter education should check out the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools at http://www.publiccharters.org/.