by Adriana Villavicencio
Most Republicans and Democrats can only agree on three things: vacations in August, getting reelected, and charter schools. Charter schools – technically public schools that aren’t required to comply with all of the regulations imposed on regular public schools – have become a bipartisan hallmark of current education reform and have been portrayed as the salvation of failing schools systems in large urban districts.
The media is so rife with charter success stories, miracles, and models of achievement that it is easy to forget that only 17% of charter schools outperform public schools, while 37% of charter schools perform worse than public schools. The truth is some charter schools are great, some are terrible, and most are somewhere in between (guess what…the same can be said of regular public schools).
There are, however, some successful charters that stand out when compared to their district schools, but when you examine these schools more closely, you come to recognize that it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Advocates like to say that because these schools are located in the same neighborhoods (sometimes on the same block), they serve the same students and face the same challenges, but are they really the same?
Are they the same when a charter school can remove a student for disruptive behavior, while the school down the street must take everyone (often, the very students pushed out by the charters)?
Are they the same when a charter school doesn’t serve the same proportion of special education students that the school down the street is required to?
Are they the same when a charter school requires teachers to stay two hours after school and work on Saturdays (which, by the way, is easier is when the majority of your teachers are 24 and have no children of their own to take care of), while the school down the street must pay their teachers for working extended hours.
Are they the same when a charter school has affluent, well-connected philanthropists supporting extra programs, more staff, and well equipped facilities, while the school down the street is relying on bake sales to pay for supplies?
Are they the same when charter school parents must sign contracts to volunteer regularly at the school, while the school down the street sees only 7 parents at the monthly PTA meeting?
These differences aren’t true to the same extent in every charter school. Nor do any of these differences discredit the hard work of charter school leaders, teachers, and their students. Any time a student succeeds, we all win. At the same time, we must acknowledge that comparisons cannot be drawn between two unlike things. Understanding this may help us avoid pitting charter schools against public schools – that’s a battle for adults in which students end up losing.
To learn more about Adriana, visit The Radical Ideas.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.