Instead of addressing the problems of public education across the nation, educators and politicians are washing their hands and handing the problem on to the private sector, so they can experiment with the education of our youth.
Considered an educational experiment only 10 years ago, many states have given strength to this educational experiment by easing their laws to allow the formation of charter schools, which have become the alternative for parents who are disgruntled at public education system but cannot afford private schools.
Continual low test scores, high dropout and illiteracy rates seem to have proven too much for public education. Throwing their hands up in desperation, many lawmakers think they have found the answer in charter schools.
More than half a million students across the nation are now enrolled in charter schools. California hasn?t been left behind in the new trend, having one of the highest number of charter schools, behind only Arizona.
Charter school educators are free to be innovative in their educational techniques. The assumption is that, given the freedom to be innovative, schools can independently adapt to the educational needs of a community, in particular the inner city, where many charter schools have taken root.
These schools are allowed to act independently and free from regulation, given that test scores improve over a certain amount of time, usually three to five years. These schools, therefore, conduct business away from the hindering regulations and bureaucracy of public schools.
But if so many states and school districts see a possibility of improvement by giving these schools the freedom to create innovative teaching techniques, why not implement them in their own state-run schools? Instead, states have opted to let someone else handle the problem on public funds.
Although independently run, charter schools still receive public money that should be directed toward our already under-funded public schools. These funds are available even before the charter is renewed and the school demonstrates some level of effectiveness. The school can turn out to be a complete failure on the state budget.
These schools do receive private funds as well, and because they are independently run, it is questionable how much influence these donors have over the curriculum in the classroom. It might be too early to tell still. While a lot of the funding may come from individuals interested in making an improvement in education, several private companies have become large donors, such as Gap. Perhaps some charter schools will decide to adopt a policy of requiring uniforms that can only be purchased at Gap stores.
Why do we need to regulate the performance and handling of these schools?
A charter school in Fresno was closed after it became known that the school was hiring felons. A Los Angeles school was closed when it was found out that its principal used public funds to lease a personal sports car. Some schools began to charge tuition.
How ?public? these schools really are can be quite problematic as well. Because the existence of the school is completely dependent on its performance in the first few years, an entrance exam is required for many charter schools. In essence, they begin taking in the cream of the crop in order to be successful. Should this trend continue, our public schools will then become even more of a second-rate education system with no incentive to improve.
The existence of charter schools has revealed a huge flaw in our public school system, which is a huge and complicated bureaucracy that has lost sight of its primary focus: education. However, these schools need to be regulated in order to maintain quality, access and accountability. Merely closing down the school, after students and parents might have lost five years of an education, is not enough. It is not acceptable. It doesn?t give these kids their education, or time, back. These families are left to find another school and to completely readjust.
This is an experiment that we cannot afford to get wrong.