Charter Schools Marie Cincotta

Another Reform Failure or a September 17,2001

Worthwhile Investment?

By Thomas L. Good and

Jennifer S. Braden

Kappan Volume 81, June 2000 p.p. 745-750


Not since "A Nation at Risk" was released in 1983, has there been so much talk about public education and the need for reform. The charter school movement is a reform to fix what some perceive as deficiencies in the public education system. This article explores what the authors feel are four problematic aspects of charter schools. There are various reasons for creating charter schools but the main one is the belief that charter schools would create competition in the education market place, which would lead to increased innovation, and energy in public schools. Generally, this has proven not to be true.

The first issue of concern regarding charter schools is their failure to provide an environment, which fosters experimentation and innovation. Studies indicate innovations in curriculum and instruction are not happening in charter schools.

Secondly, charter schools promise to lessen bureaucracy and focus spending on classroom instruction. However, they have not been too successful in this regard. Charter schools are spending more on administration and less on classroom teaching than public schools.

A third concern regarding charter schools is their tendency to segregate students by race, income, and special needs.

The last concern questions the buildings, sometimes inadequate, that many charter schools operate in. In Arizona, for example, building requirements for charter schools are waived. Students can be in environments that are not conducive to learning and, in some cases, unsafe.

Charter schools have made a small contribution to education reform. However, the charter school movement is fairly new and the authors of this article feel with proper legislation and policies, charter schools have the potential to enhance public education.

I feel this article presents some very real problems surrounding charter schools. I agree, the issue of school reform is a hot topic in education today and charter schools provide an alternative to public school education. Charter school advocates see their schools as a response to the perceived "one-size-fits-all" program of the traditional public school system and as an opportunity to provide an educational experience that is different and more tailored to the individual needs and interests of their students. In theory, this seems like a good idea but in reality, studies seem to indicate charter schools offer little innovation in curriculum and instruction. Funding is a very real concern. In New Jersey, funding for charter schools requires the local district to provide 90 percent of the average per pupil cost for each student from the district attending the charter school. Nothing more is provided to cover rent or renovation. Starting and maintaining a charter school is costly. Money does make a difference and I question charter schools ability to run efficiently on minimum funding.

Charter schools definitely have the potential to promote segregation. Admission requirements can control the students accepted in a schools academically as well as socioeconimically and racially. There are charter schools that focus on specific cultures. Children, who used to attend integrated schools, now attend all white, all black, or all Hispanic schools. Charter schools have not been around long enough to realistically and objectively measure their success and impact on public education. Critics of schools choice argue it takes money away from public schools. Achievement differences between charter and non-charter schools have not yet been established. States need to develop ways for establishing, monitoring, and evaluating charter schools. These procedures could possibly provide information that could lead to the improvement of public schools.

The future of charter schools is hard to predict but they are definitely part of the reform in American education. The election in November could set the tone for school choice because Bret Schundler is a strong supporter of charter schools. Time will tell if this is just a passing trend or a good alternative to public education.

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