Are Charter Schools Really the Bad Guy?


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:

KNOVA Reynolds Charter School in Gresham must close 11 days early this year because of a lack of funding ( 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.

Additional resources:

A recent article from the Huffington Post discusses a similar funding issue:

How Oregon ranks in charters nationally:

Those interested in advocating for charter education should check out the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools at

Promise Neighborhoods and Harlem Child Zone… to be or not to be? That is the question for these communities.

To be or not to be?  Communities that applied for Obama’s Promise Neighborhood grants in the past have asked this question.  They wanted their communities to be more conducive to learning in order to help their students achieve in their … Continue reading

Grey Clouds Looming Over Education: Is There a Bright Future? (by Guest Blogger Meaghan McHill)

There is a lot of tension hovering over education in regards with Charter schools. They are privately owned, publicly funded schools that require an application to be filled in order to attend the school. If the school receives an abundance … Continue reading

A One-Size Fits All Approach Does Not Work: On Charter Schools & Standardized Testing (by Guest Blogger Kyle Billings)

At what point are we going to realize that the one-size fits all approach does not work? Students should get the option of what school they best fit into. Should it be a situation where schools are inherently better than other schools? I think not, however, there should be schools that focus on math and science, and others that focus on visual and musical arts. Some students want to be scientists, whereas others want to be artists. There should not be a problem here.

I think about this and I recall a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. He speaks of a young lady who couldn’t sit still in class, (whom at this day of age would have been diagnosed with ADHD), and instead of determining that she was not a good student, she was taken to a school that fit her needs. Instead of trying to fit her into a mold that she does not fit into, she went to dance school. She thrived, grew and now she has been incredibly successful.

With standardized testing, we are trying to mine our youth for only one thing. Measurable results. We punish our teachers and schools if students cannot meet the expectations that are set by a testing board that seem to think that one size does fit all. Students are being stripped of their ability to think divergently and creatively so they can color in bubble ‘a’.

In an editorial piece by Bill Gates, Mr. Gates points out that despite what any common opinion, teachers WANT to be accountable to their students. It is just our way of measuring them that is not working. I also do not believe that monetary compensation is the most important thing to our educators. Do we give them opportunities for professional development? What if our educators received stipends so they also could continue their education? In other parts of the world teachers collaborate and mentor each other, teachers need to grow just as students do. Effective teachers will spread effective measures to other teachers given the opportunity. Do we give them that opportunity?


I do not believe that charter schools are an inherently bad thing. Having schools that have enable our youth to focus on what their interests are in can only boost their potential. We do need to have performance measurements, but their needs to be better ways.


In class evaluations by other educators, review by students, looking at artistic and academic improvement are just a few ways that we can move away from the standardized testing. While I agree that there is a certain breath of knowledge that our youth should have when they finish high school, there just needs to be a better way of delivering that knowledge, and evaluating them on it.


I read that Education Reform is going to be the Civil Rights battle of our generation. With everything that I have read recently I am beginning to believe that is correct.



After watching  ‘Do School Kill Creativity?’ do you agree with Sir Ken Robinson? After reading the editorial by Mr. Gates do you agree? Do you think we need to restructure our school systems to allow our youth to flourish? Is our educational system that hasn’t been revamped since the industrial revolution due for a serious look?



Public = Private? (by Guest Blogger Nelson Endebo)

Jonathan Kozol in an interview in BuildBetterSchools brings up a few controversial aspects of Charter Schools and public education at large. According to him, inequalities are now greater than twenty years ago. Addressing this issue, he remarks that “Some states have equalized per-pupil … Continue reading

Want a Better Education? Draw a Number (by Guest Blogger Janice Nakamura)

the lotteryThis week I watched the acclaimed documentary, “The Lottery.”  This documentary is about Harlem Success Academy, a public charter school that emphasizes on helping students achieve higher reading or math results.  Now, I won’t give you entire synopsis of the documentary, that is for you to watch!  However, I can give you a slight bit of the rundown of the issues they addressed in the film and what we are currently covering in our capstone class.

The film focuses on four families trying to get their child in a spot into Harlem Success Academy, in hopes of a better academic life and future.  Founder Eva Markowitz has dedicated her life to revamping and creating the charter schools to be accessible to as many students as possible.  Her goal, as well as Harlem Success Academy’s goal is to say to students, “I am going to help you become a college graduate.”  That said, families are willing to do what it takes to have their child into the academy, which does an annual lottery system to select students that are admitted to their school for the following academic year.

 From what the film states, there is a massive achievement gap that is growing bigger and bigger each year, currently a four year gap between the average African-American twelfth grader having the same abilities as a Caucasian eighth grader in all subjects.  The interesting view I noticed in the film was that some school board members, state representatives or whatnot, have all said that they know what it takes for a school to be successful.  Harlem Success Academy is doing just that, but the question I keep asking myself is, why aren’t we seeing this elsewhere and why aren’t there anymore other schools like it? 

Back home in Hawaii, there were two charter schools that started about ten years ago.  Both still exist, but I do remember in the newspapers about how these two charter schools were shutting out students that wanted to attend but could not due to funds or students who were not able to make it in the regular school system, were eventually brought over to the schools.  I honestly had a bad impression of charter schools growing up and was clouded over stereotypes over the fact that it was either children who did not do well in school or were misbehaving, went there.  Children who’s parents could afford it, went there.  Parents negatively thinking our public school systems did not qualify, they sent their students there.  Those were some interesting things to think about.  Honestly, now that I learned more and continue to learn more in the topic, I think charter schools are positive ways to help students who struggle, but also students who want to be there as well.  In the film, none of the students that were filmed struggled with reading difficulty, but it was parent preference that they sent their children to Harlem Success Academy.  So, charter schools enable families to have a choice in what school they want their children to attend rather than zoned schools.

However, I’m beginning to wonder how does this become the choice for everyone?  I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it was heartbreaking that during the film some people did not get chosen for the lottery.  I think that the context of ‘lottery’ is a bit negative, especially when this golden ticket sets the path for a child, and one that does not receive the good news, well…try again next year or go somewhere else.  So, why are we making the future a gamble?  Shouldn’t everyone have a fair shot?  Of course, in our culture, the American Dream, we are told that if we work hard, we will succeed.  In this case, what if your cards don’t play out?  I believe that charter schools are an excellent way to improve a child’s academic life, but I still believe there is so much money, resources, staffing, and more that needs to be done to ensure that this opportunity is given to all students, not by the draw of a hat.

Thanks for reading,


What the 2012 Presidential Candidates Believe Education Should Be (by Guest Blogger Eli Creighton)

This election is going to be a big one. For many reasons, this election will decide the immediate and long-term future of our country. On one hand, we have a Democrat who has spent billions of dollars on education and … Continue reading

This Week’s Education Reading List:

I am knee-deep in planning materials for my fall 2012 courses.  In the next term, which starts on September 24, I teach an Enhancing Youth Literacy Capstone at PSU, two WR 122: Persuasive Writing courses at PCC, and one WR 223: Persuasive Writing course at Marylhurst.  As you may imagine, the process of course revision, syllabus editing, and preparation is a little crazy as the term approaches.  With piles of books at my side and a book bag stuffed with papers, books I want to read, pens, and pamphlets, I am a near-constant feature at my local coffee shop.  That said, you can imagine that haven’t had oodles of time to write elegant blog posts on the state of education this week. Continue reading

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?


Are Our Schools Putting the Needs of Adults Before the Needs of Children?: Reflections on Charter Schools and *The Lottery* (by Guest Student Blogger Emily Jasperson)

Note: In the Summer Youth Enrichment Capstone, Emily Jasperson volunteered this term through the James John SUN summer program and worked with elementary school students. She has a background in childcare and is thinking about becoming a teacher. She is the third student blogger in this series.

With all of the obvious issues with public education in the United States today, it is clear that something needs to be done to close achievement gaps and find new and better ways to educate our future. Charter schools attempt to accomplish these goals, and actually appear to do it quite nicely. After watching The Lottery, I think of these institutions in an entirely new way and find myself really agreeing with their practices. Before, I had heard mostly negative things about them. Like they were only for the rich and privileged, and while some are, a majority are located in poor communities, transforming struggling children’s lives for the better.

            One of the things that impressed me most about Harlem Success, the charter school featured in the film, was the high level of teacher support and encouragement. Most everyone can agree that a teacher has a great deal to do with the success of his or her students. The teachers at Harlem Success are routinely observed and evaluated, then given suggestions and guidance based on these observations. This does not happen in public schools. Here, teachers are spread too thin and do not feel supported, or so I’ve heard. With 100% of its students passing tests, it’s quite clear that they are doing something right.

            Another aspect of this charter school, and many others, is the emphasis placed on graduation. Even in kindergarten classrooms the graduation year of the students is prominently displayed. The goal for students at Harlem Success is graduating and going on to college, not test scores. And it actually works! Children at these schools are told, and it is expected, that they will graduate. In public schools in similar areas one is almost expected not to graduate. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have no expectations set out for your life, well no positive ones at least. It’s sad that this is a reality for many children today.

            With all of the positive outcomes of charter schools, there is still opposition. Watching the parents opposing Harlem Success was confusing to me. Don’t they realize that kids just like their own are receiving an education far better than they get at public school? Perhaps they just fear change, or maybe they are misguided about what charter schools actually are and do. In the film, there was talk about the teacher’s union and how charter schools are in direct conflict with their views. It does seem like charter schools are threatening the institution and bureaucracy of public schooling. The founder of Harlem Success made a great point when she said that we needed to stop “putting the interests of adults above the interests of children.” Why is this so hard for so many people to see? Does everything have to be about big business in this country, even when it comes to kids? Clearly, charter schools are doing something right, but when will the public school system start adopting their effective practices and actually educate our children for their futures?