Should We Save a Slice for Charters?

Amethyst Hinton Sainz Current Affairs, Education Policy

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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?


Amethyst Hinton Sainz is National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts, and is constantly trying to live up to that standard! This year she will begin teaching at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona as an interventionist. She has taught junior high ELD and high school English in Arizona for 25 years. She has been a Stories from School blogger since 2012. Amethyst’s alma maters are Blue Ridge High School, the University of Arizona and the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. Her bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led her toward the College of Education, and she soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel her throughout her career. Her love of language, literature, and culture led her to Bread Loaf for her master's in English Literature. She is a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for her. As a board member of the Mesa NBCT Network, she works with other NBCT’s to promote this powerful process throughout the district. She supports candidates for National Board Certification, and loves seeing teachers realize and articulate their teaching and leadership power! She enjoys teaching students across the spectrum of academic abilities, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education. Last year she had the privilege of running our school garden, and will really miss that this year. She is currently learning more about social and racial justice and is striving to be an antiracist educator. She lives in Mesa, Arizona with her family. She enjoys time with them, as well as with her vegetable garden, backyard chickens, and the two dogs. She also enjoys reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), kayaking, camping, and travel, among other things.

Comments 3

  1. Donnie Lee

    I love that you wrote a response to a piece that I wrote. It builds the communication and links between blogs. I tried to be vague in my opinion of charter schools. I do believe that there are some great charters out there. You did bring up a good point about them being free from harsh accountability and being able to achieve their mission. I do question the amount of accoutability on a charter school. Maybe they don’t need as much as public schools but I do think they need some accountability and some regulations. I hate the fact that some charter owners own the property that their school is on so part of the cost is going to pay themselves for rent. I think that if you are involved in charter school, you should not be allowed to recieve any compensation other than your salary and that should be comparable to someone in a similiar position at a public school. All of my arguments against charter schools boil down to funds and how they are allocated.

    1. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

      I totally agree. Which is at the heart of so many of the efforts to privatize what was once public. We lose transparency, and greed and profit create a kind of instability and lack of public responsibility. Despite the possible benefits, this movement is really dangerous.

  2. Karl Ochsner

    Amethyst, I agree that it is a crime for any school that accepts public money should be certified by the state. Even dog groomers and hair stylists need to be state certified. Just because you have a bachelors or masters in a particular subject matter, doesn’t make you a teacher. It makes a mockery out of education programs and no need student teaching. Perhaps if Charter schools are doing a good job, that they help turn a failing school around? Charter schools fill a niche. But this niche is not above the table.

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