Are Charter Schools the Answer? Schools of Choice Give Parents More Control, More Accountability

Article excerpt

In two recent surveys conducted by Public Agenda (a New York City-based nonprofit research group), Missouri parents gave their opinions about public education. According to the survey, two-thirds of public school parents in St. Louis would put their kids in private school if money were not an issue, and 46 percent of Missouri's parents would opt out of the public school system if they could. But only a tiny minority - 13 percent - of respondents favored vouchers. Why?

According to Public Agenda, "Missourians are more critical of their public schools than citizens nationwide, but this criticism does not translate into rejection of the public education system itself." And, "compared to the nation as a whole, Missourians are less enticed by private school alternatives."

So what is the recourse for parents who do not support vouchers yet want a public school system that meets their needs? Fortunately, there is a solution within the public school framework: charter schools. Charter schools are independent, site-based managed, public schools of choice. They are established by state statute and freed by law from most of the state rules and regulations that govern district schools. Charter schools give parents more control, more choice and more accountability - all things Missourians favored in the two Public Agenda surveys. In the St. Louis survey, respondents clearly expressed support for the site-based management concept. According to Public Agenda, "People . . . believe that the closer educational decision-making is to the local school, the better." The numbers bear that out. Only 11 percent of the public feel that school policies should be made by the "central school administration." By contrast, 48 percent feel that a "governance council at each school made up of the principal, teachers, parents and other community members" should make school policy. Charter schools shift most decision-making responsibility from a central office bureaucracy to educators at the school who are closest to the needs of the children. Along with more site-based management, public school choice is becoming an attractive option for cities across the country. National surveys show that school choice is strongly favored both in other Midwestern states and in cities similar to those in Missouri. In one such survey, conducted by the Center for Education Reform, parents overwhelmingly (86 percent) indicated support for school choice and further, 70 percent supported publicly funded school choice. Fully 51 percent of Missouri's parents (as opposed to 28 nationwide) prefer overhauling the public schools to other alternatives such as vouchers (13 percent). …