Donnie Dicus got me thinking about charter schools in Arizona. It disgusts me that corporations with absolutely no fidelity to Arizona’s children or communities can profit from money that is desperately needed in the traditional public schools to implement current programs and mandates.
Although I agree with Mr. Dicus’s major arguments against policies that govern charter schools, at least in Arizona, I find myself trying to envision a solution that doesn’t eliminate the promise of charters. Because I believe there is some promise there.
Donnie brings up an excellent argument for funnelling as much money as possible back into our “traditional” public schools: “If one is broken, invest in it and fix it.” This is a simple and powerful statement, and I agree. With more resources, public schools could continue and effectively implement an array of good ideas that have been improving schools over the past decades including arts integration, magnet programs, service learning, experiential learning, alternative and blended classrooms, schools within schools, and others, to name a few.
The whole issue is complicated, I believe, by the handful of charters that are actually run by visionary educational professionals who truly want to innovate to provide a quality education and working environment for teachers. City High in Tucson is one example, founded in part by Eve Rifkin, our Stories from School colleague. Education desperately needs a “sandbox” of innovation– space to innovate and find solutions that our less-than-agile public schools have a hard time doing. Traditional public schools have their hands tied in so many ways that charters do not.
Part of me wants to insist that if we are going to have a charter system, it needs to be held more accountable… as or more accountable than traditional public schools. (For example, why shouldn’t charters have to hire certified teachers? The idea that a teacher at a charter does not legally have to have a certificate is ridiculous.) But then, if charters are held more accountable, will that accountability put a stranglehold on any kind of positive innovation that can happen in these more agile environments? I honestly don’t know.
What if policy could be created to make it harder to get a charter in the first place, that would limit or eliminate the idea of “profit,” and that would somehow create more shared _responsibility_ for children, for quality instruction, and for how the public funds are used? If I felt that most charters shared the same sense of public responsibility that public schools feel (and are held accountable for), I could support some kind of charter system.
I do agree with Mr. Dicus, though. Public school districts have come a long way in terms of innovating alternatives and offering families choices… the issue of family choice is a less-than-convincing argument for charters, and competition does not seem to have improved education. I would also bet that a lot of those profits move out of the state and do not even benefit our economy, which is an irresponsible use of the public funds that are the bulk of our state budget.
What possibilities are there for a functional and fair charter system?