Charting a Tough Course ; Charter Schools May Be Public, but Many Are Facing Vigorous Opposition Even as They Make Key Inroads

By Gail Russell Chaddock, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 21, 2000 | Go to article overview

Charting a Tough Course ; Charter Schools May Be Public, but Many Are Facing Vigorous Opposition Even as They Make Key Inroads


Gail Russell Chaddock, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Some call them "free private schools" or public schools with a mission statement. Often, the charter schools popping up across the United States don't look like schools at all.

You'll find them in a mall or converted townhouse, in a museum or the basement of a community center - no gymnasium, no media center, and no phalanx of administrators. Fewer than 1 percent of students attend charter schools. In the $300 billion-a-year, bureaucratic world that is public education, they're still barely a blip in the budget.

Yet, in some cities, charters are reaching a critical mass that's getting harder to dismiss. Charters now educate nearly 10 percent of students in Washington, D.C.; 13.5 percent in Kansas City, Mo.; and 7.5 percent in Trenton, N.J. Traditional public schools find themselves competing for students, teachers, and facilities. It's a competition that could change the face of public education.

At issue is whether public schools must be managed by a central office. The core idea in the charter-school movement is that schools do better when they have a focus and are accountable for meeting goals rather than complying with regulations.

The bid to convert Washington's Paul Junior High School to a charter school is a textbook case of how this movement is challenging powerful assumptions about the nature of public education.

A different kind of charter

It didn't rattle the system when founders of the School for Arts In Learning (SAIL) Public Charter School proposed a new program to teach youngsters with learning difficulties. Or when the Maya Angelou Public Charter School developed an extended curriculum for kids who had been involved with the criminal-justice system. Or when the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy proposed a new school in space over a mall.

But when the principal and two-thirds of the staff at Paul Junior High School submitted a bid to become a charter school - and keep their building - that was another matter. Paul was an established school and a successful one. Its exit from the control of the District of Columbia Public Schools would be noticed.

When Arlene Ackerman accepted the job of superintendent of DCPS in 1998, she knew she was taking on one of the most challenging urban school systems in the US. Nearly 90 percent of high school juniors were scoring "below basic" in mathematics on national tests; 70 percent in reading. Schools often opened late, and the roofs leaked. Phone calls weren't answered, money was disappearing, and no one had an accurate count of students in the system.

"I had been told it was going to be a difficult district. What I did not expect was the depth and breadth of the educational crisis," she said in an interview with the Monitor last July.

As she saw it, the problem wasn't the students. It was "an adult problem," and the solution was to fix the system. She set up a 90- day fast-track procedure to get rid of ineffective teachers and retooled the central office to be more responsive.

At the same time, she worried that the rapid growth of charter schools could undercut her efforts to restore faith in the system. The district has one of the nation's most liberal charter laws. Ackerman didn't want too many kids - or schools - abandoning the system before her reforms had a chance.

"There's a reason charter schools have sprouted up in the numbers they have in the D.C. community," she said. "We have to work at getting public confidence back."

In this effort, Paul Junior High School could have been one of her brightest assets. Its soft-spoken principal, Cecile Middleton, was a 40-year veteran of D.C. public schools and had a reputation for improving every school she touched. The classrooms and corridors at Paul are calm and focused.

But she'd had it with the gutters that never got cleaned, the paychecks that came late, the lost documents that had to be rushed to the downtown offices repeatedly. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Charting a Tough Course ; Charter Schools May Be Public, but Many Are Facing Vigorous Opposition Even as They Make Key Inroads
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.