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Charter Schools

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The future of our country relies heavily on the successes of our children.  With a rise in global competition and a downturn in the economy, it is now more important than ever for the youth of our country to receive the best education possible.  As the Obama administration prepares to revamp the No Child Left Behind initiative, much attention is being given to the challenges and successes of charter schools.  A charter school is defined as a school that operates independently from the local school board, often with a curriculum and educational philosophy that are different from the other schools in the system.  Advocates for charters schools, while focusing on the success stories, believe that funding is needed for these schools so that the successes will continue to grow.  Others claim that the success of charter schools is exaggerated and additional funding provided to these charter schools is taking away from the less successful schools that need more assistance.  Should the new education initiative emphasize more funding to support a growing number of charter schools?  In order for the new education initiative to be successful, people should glean and incorporate the positive elements of charter schools into the general public school system and into pre-existing schools.

Charter schools present students and parents with an increasingly diverse array of options in education. They provide competition thus forcing school districts to improve the performance of their schools in order to attract and retain students and dollars. If people manage these schools properly, they will serve as laboratories for education experimentation and innovation. Easing of certain regulations can free teachers and administrators to develop and implement new learning strategies for managing charter schools. Increased accountability for charter schools proves that these schools have to perform or face the risk closure. This extra incentive demands results from improved performance. These schools create a range of emotions in those who support them, as well as in those that oppose them. There are many benefits to including charter schools in a public education setting, and the movement is becoming more refined and varied each year. There are some obvious benefits with a charter school, but there are many new benefits surfacing as creative educators begin to work with charter school students and teachers

Benefits of charter school

Charter schools have been favorable because it is believed that they can provide for a way to enhance student achievement by serving students who have been under-served by the public schools. There is a belief that by creating a competitive educational system, public schools will undergo significant reforms in response to the threat (Franklin, 2002). Because parents of charter school students have made the choice for their children to attend a charter school, it is believed that parents will become more “involved” in their child’s education. Charter schools in many states are “exempt from many state mandates”. Because of these exemptions, charter schools also have more flexibility for the administrators when hiring teachers and running a school. They are able to provide higher salaries for teachers working in hard to fill teaching positions.

Better motivation in charter school

Parents of children in charter schools are typically motivated than parents in traditional public schools, particularly in areas where the traditional public schools are below national average.  These parents presumably sought out the local charter school, enrolled their child, which can be an arduous process and signed an agreement with the school to adhere to their regulations and expectations. Furthermore, they sacrifice their personal time to commute their children to a school that is most likely further than their home.  One would conclude that these parents are involved in their children’s education and their everyday lives.  According to Michael Seville, a writer for Eutopia Magazine, “… parental involvement is a key ingredient in how well a student learns.”  The idea of parental involvement in their school is not a concept exclusive to charter schools.  Many traditional public schools are launching programs to do just that.  In Saratoga, California, an elementary school has made it mandatory for parents to volunteer and attend a seven-session STEP (Systemic Training for Effective Parenting) class.  This class is designed to help improve the parent’s usefulness when they appear in class.  According to the principal of the McAuliffe Elementary, Michael Kalb, even single working parents are able to find a few hours a month to help out, even if it is in the evening.  Since the inception of this program, teachers have noticed cooperative behavior of their students and willingness not present before.  These types of programs could be and should be incorporated into any traditional public school in any part of the country and would create a synergy within the school of parents, teachers, and students.

The involvement of the local community in the school

Charter schools are often subsidized financially by local businesses and organizations that in turn benefit from the sense of investment in their community.  This is a great idea that need not be exclusive for charter schools.  Traditional public schools should be receptive to local and national businesses and organizations willing to get involved.  There should be enhanced tax benefits for donations to public schools, and if private companies want to be recognized publicly for their contributions, they should be given that privilege.  What would be wrong with the Verizon Wireless library or the True Value Hardware baseball field if the children were benefiting?  Most public school districts already have foundations in place to which tax-deductible monetary donations are always accepted, but most businesses need their donations to serve their advertising and public relations needs as well.  This concept already in place in charter schools could easily be embraced by traditional public schools.

The ability to operate autonomously from local school districts

While charter schools must adhere to the same core curriculum as traditional public schools, some charter schools offer special programs from art and music to dropout prevention programs.  Given the opportunity and authority from state departments of education and local school districts, these types of programs could be implemented at traditional public schools and would certainly be more cost effective than opening entirely new schools.  Fiscal autonomy is also a core attribute of the charter school.  Traditional public schools operate under budgets that are precisely allocated by the state department of education.  For example, if the department of education states that $5000 dollars must be spent in each elementary school for a smoking prevention campaign, then the funds can be spent on the campaign or lost.  It would not be an option to use the same amount of funds for ten new computers for the computer lab and let the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) to perform voluntarily the same task.  In the state of California in particular, a 1989 scandal involving the bankruptcy of a school district in Oakland, California, prompted the State of California Department of Education to regain tighter control of individual school districts spending thus attempting to micro manage some of the largest and culturally diverse school districts in the country.  It is the opinion of many that change needs to occur at the state level as well as the federal level.

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Since the early 1990’s, charter schools have increased in popularity and the many success stories touted in news.  Due to a 2009 study, by Professor Dr. Margaret Raymond of Stanford University’s CREDO (Center for Research on Education Outcomes), many are now questioning the actual long-term success of these schools.  “While the report recognized a robust national demand for more charter schools from parents and local communities, it found that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools. 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference” (Raymond p.1).  This study also revealed that Black students did not perform well in public schools compared with how they performed in the charter schools.

National Bureau of Economic Research Study conducted a research on the success of charter schools and found out that charter schools help to improve the quality of education since they increase competition in the areas where they operate together. They conducted this study on schools in North Carolina and found out that the competition from charter schools helped to increase the composite test scores in district schools (Buckley & Schinder, 2009). Furthermore, districts that introduced charter schools caused a one percent increase in the score performance of their students. Caroline Hoxby conducted studies and found out that charter school students perform better than students in public schools do. She conducted another study in 2004 with Jonah Rockoff and found out that students in charter schools performed better in mathematics and reading compared to the students in public schools.

Several reasons why people have criticized charter school

Some people argue that these schools are not accountable on how they spend the money allocated to them by sponsors and donors. In addition to this, some people claim that these schools do not produce desirable educational results. Despite the fact that charter schools  are supposed to be closed down if they fail to achieve the results that are defined in their charter, most schools are not shut down even if they post poor results. According to a research conducted by Center for Education Reform, an audit conducted on Urban Pioneer, a charter school, revealed that this school had the lowest test scores in its entire district. Furthermore, it had financial difficulties and there were cases of academic fraud among the graduating students (Power, 2009). This school was still in operation despite all the malpractices that faced it. Studies have also revealed that charter schools sometimes employ under qualified teachers and this may affect the grades that their students score. Furthermore, studies have also proved that have a higher probability of leaving their teaching practices compared to teachers in public schools.

Challenges of charter school

They sometimes lack adequate funding to support their operations. It is hard for newly starting charter schools to obtain funding from sources such as Gates Foundation and Walton Family Foundation. In addition to this, public schools receive more district funding compared to charter schools. Most public schools also claim that charter schools compete with them in an unfair manner and this has caused them to face strong opposition from local boards, unions and state education agencies (Buckley & Schinder, 2009). Moreover, most people feel that states should control how charter schools are run. They also claim that these schools practice racial segregation, as most of them are located in African-American neighborhood. While there are many positive elements to the charter school concept, it is not the ultimate answer to the problems of the educational system in this country.  By taking the principles of the charter schools that do work such as fiscal and educational autonomy, parent involvement, and pursuit of private funding, and applying these to our traditional public schools, a more effective education reform can take place. 

Conclusion

Charter schools have brought a reform to the education system in the districts where they operate in America. They offer competition to the public schools and this force these schools to improve their performance. They also enhance the achievement of all students since they help in providing education to the students who are underserved by the public schools. Furthermore, these schools encourage the involvement of parents in the education of their children and this helps to improve the educational performance of their students. Charter schools also embrace the involvement of the local community on how the schools are run. The local community provides funding to the charter schools through public donations and fundraising and in exchange, the schools provide professionals who help in serving the community. Research conducted by National Bureau of Economic Research revealed that charter schools performed better than public schools. However, some critics argue that charter schools are not accountable on how they spend the funding allocated to them. Other people argue that some of these schools post poor performance.

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