questions about charter schools

As I have written about here, and here, I support school choice for kids and have had a good experience (so far) with them personally.

I work with a lot of parents of young kids, so I get a lot of questions about charter schools:

1.  Does it cost anything?

No. Charter schools are public schools. Parents pay no tuition.

2.  Why are so many against the expansion of charter schools?

I think opposition to charter schools breaks down to three main arguments:

  • Charter school teachers do not belong to the teacher’s union.
  • Charter schools take resources away from zoned public schools.
  • Charter schools have an unfair advantage because the most-involved parents make the effort to choose them, therefore leaving the zoned schools with the less-advantaged kids.

Teachers at charter schools are not members of the teacher’s union. That’s a powerful political force, and they oppose charter schools.

At least in New York, charter schools are often “co-located” in another school with under-utilized space. Many feel this takes away from the resources and space of the original school. I get that, but those same kids would have gone to a zoned school if they weren’t going to a charter school. So isn’t the same total number of kids in the system, and therefore the same amount of space needed? The fact that I didn’t send my kid to our zoned public school means that another space was available at that school. I think that means the resource issue is somewhat overstated. Here’s a link to a study about this issue.

It’s true that parents need to do more legwork to select and apply to a charter school.  I know from personal experience.  But all parents want the best school they can get for their child. So isn’t it better to encourage the best possible public schools rather than accept the lowest common denominator?

3.  Their rankings and test scores have been high. How do they do it?

I think it comes down to their processes and procedures. They have high expectations for kids AND parents who are part of their schools.

According to the Charter Schools Institute of SUNY (State University of New York), charter schools were leaders in terms of test scores:

  • 82% of SUNY authorized charter schools outperformed their district of location in mathematics.
  • 76% of SUNY authorized charter schools outperformed their district of location on the English language Arts assessment.

 4.  But don’t they just do drills all day and teach to the test?  I hear it’s like North Korea over there!  (actual quote, by the way)

I swear, they have fun! Our son comes home singing songs about 3-D shapes and multiplication tables.  They learn and perform songs for holiday-themed events. They have art class 4 days a week, and musical “wiggle breaks” between lessons.

However, our school is not for everyone. The school day starts earlier and ends later. (Which I personally think is great – how are parents supposed to work otherwise?)

Our school in particular can be a little intense — I’ve kind of been “scolded” for things like being late and not making sure homework is 100% complete. Not all parents would be, but I’m OK with that. The teachers are doing their job, and I’m glad they have high standards.

5.  Co-location sounds bad. Aren’t schools overcrowded already? And isn’t it a problem for different-aged kids to be in the same school?

I can only speak from my personal experience, but so far, it’s worked out fine. My son’s school starts earlier and ends later than the other school in the building. They go in a different entrance, and the classrooms are on a different floor. I believe their paths cross very rarely with the “big kids”. My son knows that they are there, but that’s it. I don’t know the details of any other schools.

6.  How did you get in?

We won the lottery!

It is a lottery system, and I feel very lucky. According to the New York City Charter School Center, there are over 50,000 kids on the waiting lists for charter schools in New York City.

We had to tour the school, apply online and wait for the results to come in the mail, fingers crossed.

Suffice to say, I think school choice is a good thing for parents and kids. Are you considering a charter school for your child?

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Sara Stanich