Commonwealth Journal

Columns

December 1, 2011

Why Not Charter Schools?

The number of parents choosing to home school their children has risen by 50 percent in the last five years. I believe this is a direct indicator of the frustration parents have in the interference of the federal government in dictating what their children should be taught.

State Representative Brad Montell announced the pre-filing of legislation that, if passed, would establish a charter school initiative in Kentucky. (House Bill BR 117) Kentucky is one of only nine states in the nation that does not have charter schools, helping place Kentucky at number 37 out of 50 states in quality of education.

In charter schools, if educators are performing below standard, they can be terminated, not reassigned or given additional training. Most charter schools are non-union and non-tenured, so an educator knows he/she must perform to a high degree of excellence to retain employment. They can increase their chances of advancement through performance incentives.

There seems to be some misconceptions about charter schools, in that they are designed for a select segment of students. Here are some clarifications regarding charter schools: They are public schools that are designed by educators, parents and community leaders, free and open to everyone who wishes to attend and free from much of the bureaucracy that stifles many traditional public schools. They are accountable for results; charter schools that do not perform up to standards are closed. Public charter schools are only an option; no child is forced to attend. Charter schools offer an alternative to traditional public schools, providing choice for parents and children in public education.

In a 2008 survey of charter schools, 59 percent reported they had a waiting list averaging 198 students. The number of parents wanting to get their children into charter schools is so large that in most places a lottery system must be used. Nationwide the number of charter schools is growing. In Louisiana, they rebuilt the Katrina ravaged areas with charter schools, and now that state outscores us on the ACT (American College Testing) college entrance tests. We used to beat them.

In 2009, the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology did a study comparing Boston’s Charter, Pilot and Traditional Schools: Charter school students in Boston outperform their peers at other public schools in Boston. The positive effects of charter schools on student achievement were found at both the middle and high school levels, and across subjects. The impact on middle school math was particularly dramatic - enough to move a student from the 50th to the 69th percentile in student performance in one year. At the high school level, charter students showed stronger performance scores in English language arts, math, writing topic development and writing competition. The charter school students in this study won school admission lotteries. To show that charters were not “creaming” the best achievers, students were compared against their counterparts who applied but did not win the lottery to attend a charter school.

Here is a direct quote from a charter school student that says it all: “I don’t know about all charter schools in general, but I know that mine has a very rigorous curriculum, because I am in calculus in 10th grade! Sometimes public schools just teach kids what is on the standardized test to blow their scores out of proportion, and even then, my 9th grade biology class last year had one of the highest averages in the state. Also, many of the kids in my chemistry class are taking honors, and several are taking AP. Even though charter schools don’t get as much money as public schools, they can still be good when the money is managed properly.”

According to the WKYT Channel 27 viewer comments, there seems to be overwhelming positive response to the idea from the general public. Passing house bill HR117 doesn’t mean the end of the traditional public schools as we know them, but it does mean parents would have another option for their children in an educational environment that has proven to produce better results. I would encourage parents and grandparents to familiarize themselves with charter school possibilities and communicate with state legislators.

•••

You can contact Cline Calhoun at

ccalhoun1@windstream.net

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