Charter Schools Don't Solve Real Problems

By Swinehart, Lisa | The Humanist, September-October 2005 | Go to article overview

Charter Schools Don't Solve Real Problems

Swinehart, Lisa, The Humanist

In August 2005 the Humanists of Florida Association opened the first Humanist charter school: the Carl Sagan Academy. Although the academy's mission is admirable, the school is simply replicating the ideals inherent in public education. Qualities such as scientific reasoning, critical thinking, and democratic principles should be central to every public school's mission. But the academy, like all charter schools, diverts attention away from real problems within the American educational system. The Humanist community shouldn't be detracting from the problem at hand by participating in the charter school movement that instead produces poor academic results, perpetuates the stratification of society, advances a parochial educational atmosphere, and reduces public education funding.

Originally designed to swap autonomy for accountability, charter schools were an experiment in deregulation. A distinct feature of charter schools is that they are unrestricted by many public school requirements. The original theory was that a less restricting environment would produce results that surpassed public schools.

However, the claim that increased autonomy leads to enhanced educational outcomes cannot be verified by recent studies conducted on national charter school performance. The National Assessment of Educational Progress conducted in 2003 found that charter school students had lower achievement than their public school counterparts "translat[ing] into about a half year of schooling?" Test scores remained lower even after the NAEP adjusted for the higher enrollment rate of minority students.

A closer examination of charter schools reveals that students are performing below public education trends. Less than satisfactory performance has been linked to the inability of charter schools to attract quality educators. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office of the Department of Education, where state law permits, charter schools are exempt from requiring teacher certifications. Only 9 percent of public school teachers are working with out certification, while 43 percent of charter school teachers aren't certified. Furthermore, as B. Fuller, M. Gawlik, E. K. Gonzales, S. Park, and G. Gibblings point out in their 2003 report Charter Schools and Inequality: National Disparities in Funding, Teacher Quality, and Student Support, charter school teachers are more likely to have little or no experience in the classroom. Barring of collective bargaining agreements, no contracts, and unsatisfactory pay could be to blame for the disproportionate amount of unaccredited and inexperienced teachers in charter schools.

One of the vital roles of public education is to provide all students with an equal opportunity to succeed. Proponents of charter schools have criticized this aspect of public education, citing substandard schooling in urban areas as an impediment to equality. Charter schools were originally intended to provide lower income and minority families with an educational choice. However, the current state of the charter school system threatens instead to amplify the socio-economic disparities among students. As research shows, some charter schools are guilty of isolating children in social or ethnic-specific enclaves. Of the African American students who attend charter schools, for example, the authors of the 2003 report find that three-fourths of them are enrolled in 273 schools. Studies also show that in some states Latino students tend to be overrepresented in charter schools and that these schools tend to spring up in lower income areas. This trend can be linked both to state laws that encourage charter schools to serve disadvantaged children and the susceptibility of inner-city schools to forced conversion under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Rather than providing a competitive educational environment, however, many charter schools serving disadvantaged students perpetuate existing class barriers by hiring uncertified teachers and providing substandard special education services. …

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