I'm pleased to welcome Ann Davis as my guest today to share her experiences with charter schools.
Are Charters the New Way?
As a student that attended a conventional public school in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I have become extremely curious of the charter-school-transformation taking place in the U.S. I have volunteered and taught at various charter schools in New Orleans, Louisiana, which boasts the highest percentage of charter schools within a public school district (over 85%). Additionally I have visited many types of charters across the nation. Charter schools differ from public and private schools in many ways, but like many schools, you can find that some are developing future leaders, while others are holding back future generations.
So What is a Charter School Anyways?Charter schools are similar to traditional public schools in many ways. Charter schools are a type of public school, and like public schools they are non-sectarian and cannot discriminate on any basis. Additionally they receive public money but are subject to less rules and regulations than traditional public schools. However, in order to consistently receive public money, charters must produce certain results, often measured through test scores.
Because charter schools have fewer guidelines than traditional public schools, it’s common to see these schools possessing a unique school culture or developing new learning models. For example KIPP, one of the largest charter networks serving low-income students, has acquired a culture of “no excuses” with a focus on character development. KM Global, a charter school in Wales, Wisconsin, which focuses on global leadership and innovation, follows an experiential learning model in which students hold internships during the school day, which they later apply to classroom discussion and learning.
So Charter Schools are Basically Amazing?There are upsides and downsides to this new model of education. Not all charters are perfect, and it’s the loose regulations of charters that can cause either successful innovation, or, as I’ve sometimes seen, a no-learning environment.
The positive aspects of a charter are directly related to their fewer rules. Because charters have more freedom than traditional schools, their hiring process, curriculum and school management system is determined by the administration and individual teachers. Some popular charter curriculums include STEM (Science, Technology, Math and Engineering), a curriculum that focuses on hands-on learning in science and math. Montessori education, which focuses on child independence and mixed-aged classrooms, is also very popular among charter schools.
In addition to changes in curriculum and management structure, there are not as many rules in place for staff salary. A teacher can potentially make more money at a charter compared to a traditional charter in the same district. In New Orleans, I have heard of teachers in their third year of teaching making over $70,000 annually!
Unfortunately few guidelines not only foster innovation, but also cause corruption. Although charter schools are designated as non-profit organizations, they still have the ability to decide how their money is spent. With fewer rules, charter schools can more easily cheat the system, and hurt children in the process. For example, a friend of mine worked at a newly opened charter school in Memphis, Tennessee. At the beginning of the school year, two school leaders embezzled funds and with no money to pay their staff, the teachers were paid on credit until February, when the credit ran out. Needless to say, the school shut down.
Positive or negative, the charter school movement is sweeping across the nation. Charters have the ability to allow for more options of new and innovative learning methods. However, it is also extremely important that the loose regulations that charters hold are not overstepped.
Ann Davis is a public school teacher in New Orleans, LA and also works for Haystack EDU, a website that provides jobs, resources and other opportunities to educators around the nation.