Some have claimed that Senator Alberta Darling’s public charter school legislation is a threat to public education. How can this be? Charter schools ARE public schools. In exchange for more freedom to experiment and innovate, public charter schools are held to unprecedented levels of accountability. If they don’t meet the terms outlined in their contract – or charter – they can be closed.
Right now, in all parts of Wisconsin except the Milwaukee area and one independent charter school in Racine, only school districts can give permission for parents, teachers, or non-profits to open a public charter school. Seems reasonable, right? School districts should want to innovate, especially around specific problems they face.
Here’s the problem: school districts have strong incentives to block really good public charter school ideas. Embracing such ideas, especially those that look radically different than the district’s traditional schools, forces the district to admit that their current schools are falling short in some way. Your average Wisconsin school board president or superintendent simply isn’t going to do that. Bureaucracies are created to regulate, not to innovate.
So what becomes of these good ideas? Districts reject them altogether, or water them down to make the public charter schools, mainly Instrumentality Charter Schools, look more like traditional schools. In both cases, the purpose of innovation is lost.
Take the case of the Madison Prep charter school proposal that went before the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education in 2011. The proposal was for an all-boys middle and high school specifically designed to meet the needs of African American and Latino boys, two groups who are failing miserably in Madison’s traditional schools. Madison Prep would look nothing like Madison’s traditional public schools: boys in blazers and ties every day, a rigorous college prep curriculum for all, and an extended school day and year. Despite overwhelming community support for the school, the school board rejected it.
Senator Alberta Darling’s Senate Substitute Amendment to Senate Bill 76 would let UW system schools, technical colleges, and CESAs sanction the creation of new public charter schools, NOT OPERATE THOSE CHARTER SCHOOLS. Unlike districts, these entities have every reason to embrace innovative public charter schools. UWs and technical colleges deal directly with the shortcomings of our K-12 system when students get to their institutions unprepared to write, read, and compute. CESAs, while deeply engrained in Wisconsin’s K-12 system, are removed from the local politics that tie up public charter schools. In this way, they are perhaps the best poised to vet quality public charter school proposals.
Parents need be empowered in the process of choosing the educational option that will best serve their child/ren. Last year across the United States there were close to one million students on a waiting list to attend an independent public charter school. Empowering parents with another quality public school option is an important way of improving the
broader public school system.
And at the risk of sounding a bit repetitive, I’d like to review four key points that cover the importance of public charter schools.
Charter Schools are Public Schools
Charter schools are independent and autonomous public schools that are allowed to be more innovative and are held accountable for improved student achievement. Charter schools are part of a range of solutions that will enable every child in WI to have access to a great education.
Charter schools are public schools and they keep public money within the public school system. If a traditional public school is not working for a child, then parents should be able to choose another public school option, including a public charter school.
All Parents Need to be Empowered
There are close to one million students on waiting lists to attend a public charter school in the United States. Empowering parents with another public school option is an important way of improving the broader public school system.
Charter Schools Stand for Accountability
Public charter schools introduce an unprecedented level of accountability in our system of public education. If a public charter school is not performing as outlined in their performance contract “charter” with their authorizer they can be closed.
Charter Schools Promote Achievement
Studies continue to show public charter school students make greater academic progress than students in traditional public schools.
But the bottom line is this – we must stop quibbling about what kind of public schools we need – traditional or charter. The reality is that to meet the needs of all kids across Wisconsin, we’ll need high quality schools, traditional and charter schools.