In Re Smarter Charters

Educational Leadership published an excerpt from Halley Potter and Rick Kahlenberg’s book”Smarter Charters.” The piece compares  two distinct topics: the charter school world as envisioned by former American Federation of Teachers’ president Albert Shanker in 1988 when the concept was first introduced to the United States, and the reality of the charter schools’ world, nearly thirty years later.

Charter schools are typically herald for their ability to go beyond the bureaucracy of public schools. The idea, for Shankner, was to have schools that were funded by the government but operated as a private school. This setup would allow students from socioeconomic disadvantage backgrounds an opportunity to receive a level of specialized education that is tailored for career success.

Potter and Kahlenberg believe that charter schools today have gotten it wrong. The schools now are focusing more on competition than collaboration and merit than diversity and uniqueness. I think that they have hit the nail on the head, as charter schools, while positioned as more flexible in policy, do not take advantage of this liberty. One of the key points that Potter and Kahlenberg point out is the role of the teacher in charter schools.

Teachers have the ability to have more of a say on how charter schools function. According to the Center for Education Reform, only 7% of charters schools are unionized. I find this number to be quite remarkable, as unionzed provide teachers with the career security that teaching in very complex and challenging field requires.

Furthermore, the lack of unionization may also be connected to why teacher turnover rate is twice as high at charter schools than public schools. One study shows that high turnover rates have been correlated to low test scores.

Having studied in public schools from K-12 in New York City, where there has been a debate on charter schools v. public schools, I find it particularly refreshing to read more about the pitfalls of charter schools. Not because I am against, but because i want to understand more of the actual inner workings of the present state and not the concept of charter schools. I think it is easy to fall in love with the idea of what charter schools can achieve because the possibility is there. But that is a huge difference from what is happening. Understanding the downside and issues of both education models, is the first step to understanding how we can get them to work together, like YES Prep and neighboring schools in Texas, in such a way that both systems prevail.

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