Schooling in America has historically been a public affair. From the beginning, colonizers and pioneers would build two things in a new settlement: a church and a schoolhouse. It takes a village to raise a child and all that, so it makes sense that everyone would be willing to work together to make sure all the youth have a fair and quality education. After all, it’s important to raise your children right, and who in their right mind would trust some random business to do that?
Well, in modern times this tradition has been challenged. Charter schools are still making waves around the country for their success stories and personalized approaches. In essence, a charter school is a school that is publicly funded and free to go to but run by a private entity.
Of course, private schools have been around for ages, but these were mainly ways for the rich or culturally separate to form their own communities. Charter schools differ in that they receive government funding for their work, usually based on the number of kids they enroll (and therefore relieve from the public school network).
Based on only this summary, it is no surprise that many (especially those on the right politically) fall head over heels for this concept. Ideally, charter schools allow for more choice among families and take some pressure off of the government for schooling and even the socioeconomic playing field when it comes to education.
Charter schools in concept are especially popular in a time when public schools are failing kids time and time again. Anyone who has been through the public school system—particularly in cities where resources are stretched thin—usually has mixed opinions at best about their time there. Teacher turnover, lack of supplies, class size and muddled administrations are constantly pegged as evidence of the mess that plagues public schooling.
Recent teacher strikes in Los Angeles highlighted all of these issues in their protests and walkouts, but curiously also railed on the encroachment of charter schools in the county. If these teachers are so unhappy about huge class sizes, why are they also hesitant to let charter schools take some of this burden off of their shoulders? Why are Americans in general cooling on the idea?
Well, for all the successes of charter schools highlighted, there are just as many stories of poorly-run, closed-down and shadily-administered schools that are swept under the rug. It turns out that a lot of these schools of choice over-enroll students and then cut down the population after receiving their check for them.
This lets these charter schools pocket the money (for education or otherwise) while pushing the students back into the public school system. In addition, many charter schools have a history of abysmal operations, closing after only a few years.
And remember, it’s the government paying these schools to operate, usually taken out of the public school system budget. These models sap the public schools of money and strain the system with students in and out of schools.
Of course, these points aren’t a mark against all charter schools. But while the government is overly supportive of charter schools due to some zeitgeist, they ignore these huge loopholes that go against the narrative. There is simply no stakes for the people running these schools, and so they take advantage of it. All at the expense of students, particularly those who don’t get to go to the “good charters.”
So, maybe it would be best to slow down a bit on adopting charter schools fully. If the issue is poor public schooling, after all, there’s another solution: give proper funding. Don’t underpay teachers until the worst people for the jobs are the only ones left. Don’t expect one person to educate a class of 40. And don’t force endless standardized tests without using them to inform curriculum updates. By paying into public schooling the amount it needs, we can create a system that equitably teaches all children, not just those who get into the right private and charter schools.
Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.