Sunday, October 24, 2010

What about charter schools?

Sometimes when I say that we're homeschooling, people ask me, "What about charter schools?"  It's sometimes assumed that I'm homeschooling because I'm not pleased with public school options.

For many families, charter schools have been a great alternative to traditional (and often low-performing) public schools.  There's an emphasis on discipline and academic excellence.  Since admission to these schools is not automatically guaranteed (usually there's a lottery or a test to gain entrance), there's an atmosphere of gratitude amongst parents and children because they know it's not their right to be in the school.  That there cuts down on some of the disciplinary issues found in traditional public schools:  you can be kicked out.  People wait anxiously to hear if their children will be accepted and really rejoice if their kids are.  I don't blame them at all and I'm glad they exist as an alternative but charter schools do not represent an acceptable option to me. 

When applying for teaching positions, I carefully avoided applying to charter schools.  The work day for a teacher at one of these schools typically started at 7 and ended at 4--two hours longer than a teacher's day at a traditional public school.  In addition, teachers were often expected to be accessible to students after school hours for homework help.  To me, these schools were asking too much from me as a teacher and definitely not compensating me enough.  With my own young family, I wasn't willing to make that kind of sacrifice although the philosophies and track records of these schools were definitely appealing.   So from a teacher's perspective, I didn't want to go the charter school route.  And as a parent, I don't want to either.  

Now, I will say that most of my knowledge of charter schools comes from charter schools in the South Bronx, a generally economically depressed area that exhibits many of the symptoms of these kinds of areas.  It's possible that things are vastly different elsewhere.  The (eery) feeling I got from these schools was that  they were trying as hard as they could to keep the kids in school (and out of their homes) as much as possible.  This way, they could "work" on the kids, providing an alternative to what was implicitly assumed to be less than ideal home situations.  Here the kids could be exposed to much better than anything they could receive from their families.  This feeling of mine was reinforced by the fact that many of the teachers at these charter schools were White, middle-to-upper class, well-educated young men and women with the goal of "doing good" for those "terribly disadvantaged children."  Essentially, charity work (especially in light of the pay and hours).  It reminded me of the boarding schools set up by churches in colonial Africa that would separate the children from their parents in order to inculcate them with a whole new set of "righteous" ideals and "correct" ways of thinking.  I can't get with it. 

Paulo Freire, anyone?  You can never divorce education from politics.   There is always an agenda.   There's the obvious fact that charter schools are still public schools funded by the state (although some are also funded privately).  They still have certain standards to meet.  All that changes, really, is how these schools go about achieving those standards.  Charter schools do not question the status quo.  They affirm the status quo.  And devise more effective and innovative ways of maintaining the status quo.  Which is great if you as a parent don't mind the status quo. 

Do children really need more time in the classroom to learn well and do better academically?  (This is one of my biggest pet peeves!)  Children, in my opinion, need much more free time to explore on their own and opportunities to learn how to learn.  Most charter schools are still not addressing the fundamental issues:  the foundation on which the school system was built does not serve the needs of children.  They are still working on a shaky framework although what they're building is more elaborate and simply cooler than what we had before.

I'm not naive.  If it came down to it and my children needed to attend public school, I wouldn't overlook charter schools.  But honestly, I'd be more likely to find the best performing school in my area and fight to send them there.  

As a homeschooler, for some odd reason, parents feel the need to vent to me about their school situations: where they wish their kids could be, what they wish their schools could look like, what they like and don't like about the whole situation.  I'm not sure why I come off as the person to talk to.  Most recently, a parent was gushing to me about a charter school in a neighboring town started by Bill Gates.  I could not have cared less but there I was, subjected to it.  I generally keep my feelings about controversial things to myself and so I let her talk.  I also let her show me how much her 4 year old daughter knows.  She was very (and I mean very) adamant that she's way advanced for a 4 year old.  Wonderful.  

So, no, I'm not homeschooling because I don't know about charter schools.  I'm homeschooling in spite of charter schools. 

Interesting articles here and here.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for offering this perspective. My son won't be school-aged for a while but I'm already considering his educational options.

Serenity Love Sincere Peace Earth said...

I am frequently amazed at people who homeschool. I really don't get it. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that my mother was a teacher/librarian in the public school system for 40 years.

How long do you plan to homeschool?

The Original Wombman said...

You're welcome NGBJ! :)

SLSPE, as long as feasible. So long as my son wants to continue and I have it in me to keep going, we'll keep going.

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